Hard talks with children

Being parents, we want our children to have all the benefits of our experience. Conveying this experience in a clear and helpful form is not an easy task. We cannot expect to succeed every time, yet some simple tools help to get the message across. For this article, I collected information by reading
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Tech is not the best babysitter

Having a job and intensive lifestyle and taking care of a baby at the same time is very hard. As parents, we use all the help we can get. Kindergartens are open only some of the day, and grandparents have their own lives. So we try to use the technology to survive. My own kids got TV almost from day one, and some mobile device experience since they were several months old. With babies, GarageBand app proved to be very effective, allowing endless creativity for the child and relative tranquility for the parents. My eldest son required help from speech therapist when he was 3-4 years old, and additional help from reading teachers when he was 6-7 years old. The other two children did not need such intervention. While no permanent damage was done, my strategy was not the best one. Recent studies recommend limiting screen time to 1 hour per day till the child is five years old, and even then the child and the parent should discuss what they see. In this way, the children get the best stimulation and develop speech patterns earlier.

How bad are speech delays?

It is recommended to spend the first years with the child playing board games, telling stories, and walking outdoors. These are the activities we did with our parents when we were toddlers. Yet, as modern parents of multiple children, we probably cannot afford to give the children this level of attention. As a result, our children may suffer from delayed speech development. This may sound frightening, but actually, it is not that bad. Multilingual children quite often start speaking later, and they have a well-developed brain and no educational issue later on. It could be that the extra screen time develops some other skills, which are nonverbal. Still, the speech delay means that the child will require more time with parents and therapists as he grows up. Additionally, children who experience speech delays often have trouble in social interactions because language is the foundation for such interactions. This means that the parents should invest some effort in constructing positive social interactions for their children with the proliferation of technology.

Meaningful dialogs from the young age

A young child, starting at three years old, already has a rich inner world and can participate in a meaningful dialogue. The child should be able to explain what bothers him, what are his deepest desires, and how he sees the world around him. As grown-ups, we enrich the conversation and provide speech patterns the child can copy. Quite often children do not label their experiences correctly. Ask for details and examples. We also introduce the subjects of interest: animals, dinosaurs, legends, and stories. Some children ask for more grown-up themes, the deeper understanding of how the world works. Whatever we tell, the content and the form of explanation must be adapted to the child’s needs. If you are a professor and get asked about your research, you should not present your latest paper in front of your child. Focus on emotional needs, things that are fun and cool and motivating… Make sure to have very clear about the limits you set.

Do not discourage stereotypes

Children have to learn a lot from the very little experience, so they tend to use stereotypes. As parents we should encourage the ability to generalize and discourage stereotypes, focusing on how each person, animal, and experience is special. Personally, I usually enjoyed discussing different situations with the children. Some situations support the stereotypes, and some do not. The child hopefully learns to put a question mark near every stereotype, looking for more information and nuances. With children that are 6-12 years old, it is possible to discuss the dangers of particular stereotypes: how they can be inappropriate and lead to all sorts of trouble and injustice. Yet, it is important to understand, that generalization is required for accelerated learning, and the children should not be discouraged from making assumptions and proposing theories. We can ask “what else supports your theory” and “when does your theory stop working” and provide some stories from some other theories that may interest the children. We can also encourage the formation of positive and motivating stereotypes, like “people who work hard succeed”.

Always encourage the children

Small children benefit immensely from bright family and meaningful conversations. As the children grow up, those with difficulties (such as low IQ, delayed speech development, social awkwardness) benefit from the family support much more than those who are “strong” in the related areas. As parents, we often tend to celebrate the strengths of our children, pushing them into higher levels of mastery. Later on, the child will also be more inclined to develop the strengths than deal with weaknesses. It may be a better return on investment, to deal with the child’s weaknesses, before a serious gap is generated. Children can easily improve their IQ, and even adapts can improve their IQ to some degree.

Manage expectations

Fear of the unknown can generate many specific anxieties. I quote:

Panic disorders are a perfect example of anticipatory anxiety. When someone is constantly anxious about the unpredictability of when and where he or she might have a panic attack; the fear of fear itself becomes the biggest problem. The fear of having a panic attack in public can lead someone to become agoraphobic and never stray from ”safe spaces.” This can create a downward spiral of social isolation, depression, and paralysis to perform instrumental activities of daily living

There is no good reason for the child to fear the unknown if we can describe several possible scenarios and reduce the fear. The parents’ challenge is not so much dealing with the anxiety, as identifying the reason for the anxiety. Typically we need to ask several questions, before we get to the most basic dilemmas and needs, and the child can be nervous and unwilling to talk. By sharing our own experiences in similar situations, we may reduce the anxiety and invite positive communication.

Dealing with lies

There are many ways people lie. Sometimes they provide wrong information, and sometimes they omit the information that is important for decision making. The lie by omission is generally more acceptable, and people are more willing to mislead this way. We should not lie to our children, and then our children will be less inclined to lie to us. The most common mistake parents make is trying to make rules when lying is good and when it is bad. For example, my parents told me that it is OK to lie, but not to your family. Which is bad enough. My grandmother told me that people should never lie. All these rules simply do not work, since people tend to lie for many reasons, for example, to spare each other’s feelings. Personally, I told my children that lies come with a price and explained why this price is usually more significant than the benefits. Also, I explained that when I get full honest account my response would be trying to help, and if I get manipulated, my response would be distrust and anger. This way I left the choice to them, and so far they have been extremely honest.

Stress reduces IQ

Studies show, that stress reduces IQ by something like 25 percents, which is comparable with the effect of alcohol or marihuana. As our children learn and get smarter, their environment gets increasingly more stressful. If we want our children to succeed, we should be actively reducing their stress. Most parents of teenagers instead participate in grotesque shouting competitions, trying to prove their point. The parents often try to oppose peer pressure and social media, strongly amplifying the stress. Moreover, children have the worst personalities. While personality traits are relatively stable over time, they can and often do gradually change across the lifespan to the better. As grown-ups, we need to balance discipline and stress reduction, setting limits and avoiding conflicts. Winning is typically not the most effective strategy. We are better off if we give the children mutually acceptable tactics to negotiate the differences, even if we end up losing in the discussion.

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