When children exhibit behaviour we disapprove of or don’t understand, one thing often comes to mind (and from our mouths)…
‘Why haven’t you done your homework?’
‘Why did you leave your clothes on the floor?’
‘Why aren’t you playing with your friends today?’
The list of curiosities and questions goes on and on, likely on a daily basis.
But there’s a good reason why we should avoid asking why, says our staff psychologist Christina Rigoli, and it’s all about clarity of communication.
‘Parents love their children unconditionally, and always want what’s best for them. But the important thing to remember is that sometimes you know in your mind what your intention is, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what is being communicated.’
So when you’re questioning your kids, though you know that you’re simply looking to understand their motivations by asking why…
For them, it can come off as accusatory, blame-attributing, interrogatory and can instantly set off their defence mechanisms.
This is especially true of older kids and teenagers, who are seeking independence and privacy, and are wanting more and more to be treated like adults.
By starting your conversations with ‘why’, it can send off signals of judgement from you, and indicate a lack of trust in their own judgement.
But when understanding our kid’s motivations and behaviours is so important, how can we effectively communicate with them?
It simply involves framing our interactions in a new way.
‘Language is so important’, says Christina. ‘Communications needs to be really clear.’
Not only is that about ‘softening the blow’ of what we’re saying to our kids, but it’s also about making your expectations obvious.
This is so significant because identity is being formed our entire lives, and especially in childhood.
If kids constantly feel questioned, they may start to question themselves.
So instead of saying, ‘Why haven’t you done your homework?’…
Say ‘Do you have much homework today?’, or ‘I noticed you haven’t done any homework today — do you need some help with it?’.
This transforms your question from what could be perceived as an accusation to one of interest and assistance.
Instead of saying ‘Why are you being so rude to me?’…
Say ‘When you speak to me like that, it makes me feel upset’.
You’ll find that these simple changes in phrasing will lead to a more responsive child, and a better understanding of their behaviour.
And while it may be difficult to break this seemingly innocent and well-intentioned habit, start slow by simply being wary of judgement that could be perceived from the way you speak to your child.
From there, your change of phrasing will come naturally, and so will better communication in the long run.