It’s normal for parents to worry about kids as they navigate shared spaces, learning, and the social aspects of growing up. Parents typically find that information can- temporrily, at least- soothe some of their worry. The temptation, then, is to have LOTS of questions for kids at the end of the day, but for kids, soothing comes when an adult can join them in a space without expectations to report, perform, or explain.
A simple shift from Q & A to observing and responding to a child’s nonverbal communication can help both kids and adults relax, and create an atmosphere in which kids who are verbal processers can share more.
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Next time you are toy-shopping for sons, daughters, grandkids, or nieces/nephews remember to make space for toys that allow unscripted play.
Lots of toys come with an implicit script- that is, a way the toy is “supposed” to be played with: it might be a role the child automatically plays when playing with the toy (like most character-branded toys) or a generic script that’s followed during play (like sports, craft kits, board games, and video games). Unscripted play includes toys like unbranded dress-up clothing, play houses/kitchens/stores, blocks and building sets without build instructions, etc. Unscripted play allows kids to communicate in the language they know, and if you listen and join, you can speak it too.
Support for Parents
Parenting can be overwhelming and it isn’t something you have to do alone. If the idea of reducing the number of questions you ask your child feels really anxiety-provoking, consider giving yourself the gift of a check-in with a therapist or parenting coach. Recent research done by Yale University suggests that a short course of meetings between a parent and a therapist can soothe parents and, by extension, reduce anxiety and anxious behaviors in children.
Anxiety about what is unknown can make us want to ask lots of questions- and all those questions can put a lot of pressure on a child to relieve *our* anxiety. Sometimes the best way to connect is to scrap the questions and to bring a topic up gently (“I was thinking about you during your recess today.”), Express empathy (“I know some days that’s hard.”), and require nothing.
While this image was received well on my Instagram account, some of the feedback indicated a concern with projection or manipulation/baiting. I’m always interested in generative criticism of my work, so this was an interesting conversation to engage in. Perhaps the language in the image could be softer, less precise, and more inclusive. On the other hand, the heart of the content of the image is that taking the risk to speak (and trusting that it will either fall in a way that connects or be rejected in a way that initiates meaningful communication) to name what we intuit about the people we care about is worth it. For now, the image remains unedited, but I’ll see where I land after digesting the feedback.
Image Description for Screen Readers:
First image has a yellow background and pink bubble letters that say, “Questions Aren’t Connections.” A yellow banner underneath reads, “Questions can increase anxiety for many kids.” A box in the bottom right corner says, “learn more” with an arrow pointing.
Below this is a yellow banner that reads, “Questions can increase anxiety for many kids.” Two boxes are below this. The one on the left reads, “Instead of…” and the one on the right says, “Try:” The suggestion are: Instead of asking “How was school?” state, “You look like you’ve had a long day.” Instead of asking, “Did your test go okay?” state, “I was thinking about you during your math test.” Instead of asking, “Are you having fun?” state, “Your smile is SO big!” Instead of asking, “Did you get along with other kids?” state, “I remember you were worried the other kids might not be friendly…”
Secondary image is a yellow block image with a beige block overlaid on top. Brown text reads, “Questions and answer conversations tend to soothe parents, but stress many kids. Stating observations lets kids know we are present and listening. It’s one way to help kids feel loved and connected without requiring them to engage in an adult conversation. Kids process via play. If you want insight into their lives, join in child-led unscripted play.”