Being Curious

catreflectionSome of us like surprises.  Others like to know what’s coming.  Parents learn quickly is that life is full of surprises, some delightful, and some not so much.  Today I’m thinking about those “not so much” surprises. 

Not So Great Surprises

Perhaps you learn at a teacher conference that your sixth grader has not been passing in math homework for the past few weeks.  Maybe you have even seen your child doing the homework.

Or perhaps you hear that your child is clowning around in social studies.

Sometimes parents are surprised even though the behavior is not unusual. We adults just hope things will change.  Perhaps you ask your child to take out the trash.   You hear, “Sure, after I’m done with this.”  Now it is bedtime and the trash is still where it was.  Against your better judgment, you’re surprised.

The Talk

Often a parent’s impulse at these times is to sit the child down for a “good talk.” But grownups often do much of the talking at these times.  “A good talk” turns into a “good lecture.”  You repeat good sensible advice and tell your child what she should do.  At the end you ask for buy in, “So, you’ll do it that way now, right?”  and perhaps your child says, “Yes.”

But have you learned anything about why your child has behaved in this way and what might actually help change the situation?  Likely not.

Curiosity Helps the Relationship and Leads to Problem Solving

Here’s another way to respond.  Be curious.

First of all, you will need to manage your emotions.  If you are very angry about the problem, you child will become defensive and you won’t learn much.  So,  count to ten; take deep breath; wait until you are calm.

Then begin a conversation with your child about the problem.  You might say, “Yesterday when I met with Ms. Taylor, she told me that you haven’t been passing in your homework.   What can you tell me about that?”  You describe the situation in neutral terms without accusation.  If your child gets defensive, say, “I’m not mad.  You’re not in trouble.  I just want to understand.”  Now keep asking and listening and reassuring until you think you really understand what is going on.  Perhaps you know already.  But very likely you will learn something new.

This puts you and your child in a much  better place to do some problem solving.   If you have listened without judgment, your child feels understood and is much more likely to engage in solving the problem.  You can now wonder together how to manage so that she turns in the homework and has her concerns addressed as well.

In other blogs I will talk more about the actual problem solving, but for now, try practicing curiosity.  See what you can learn.


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Photo credit:  Jue Wang on Flickr


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