Daddy, how do babies come out? Mum, will I see my friends again when I leave Year 6? What to do when your children catch you off guard and ask you important questions at the worst of times!
Just because I’m a Psychologist doesn’t mean I always get it right. I may have a good set of tools to use but when it comes to my own children I’m their mum, and, like all mums, I make mistakes. And that’s okay!
I’d like to talk about how to manage those curve balls that your children throw at you, catching you completely off guard. You know those times when your child asks you a completely random, but significant, question at a really awkward or hectic time? And all your well-prepared mantras of “I’ll listen empathically and we’ll work together on exploring feelings to find a positive solution” go flying out the window, because you’re about to join a four-lane motorway or your in-laws are arriving for dinner in five minutes! How do we manage these tricky situations? How do we ‘get it right?’
Well, more often than not we don’t. But that doesn’t mean we get it wrong either. We’re simply responding to a situation and, whilst you may not be able to explain it at the time, it’s okay to revisit your child’s question at a later stage. Yes, try to stay calm. Yes, try to reassure your child that their question is important, and you’ll make time to discuss it after you’ve finished your Zoom call with your Area Manager. But if sometimes you forget the calm and reassurance, then don’t beat yourself up and declare yourself an unfit parent!
The key to managing the curve balls is not to worry if you don’t say ‘just the right thing’ the moment they come hurtling towards you. What’s important is to take a few moments to reflect when things are calmer, in your own mind or with someone you feel comfortable talking with. Depending on the nature of your child’s question or comment, you may know quite quickly what you want to say, or you may want to get some advice on how best to respond. Surgeons often prepare for surgery by thinking through different situations and the various actions they could take. You can prepare for answering tricky questions in the same way. Maybe even write down what you’d plan to ask and say to your child, as well as how. Then make time to chat together, remind them what they said or asked, and suggest “now’s a good time to discuss it.” Just think what your child will learn from seeing you acknowledge a mistake, think things through and try again!
If possible avoid raising issues just before bed time, as discussions can bring a whirlwind of worries to the surface, leading to unsettled sleep. However, if your child is already spinning out then they’ll probably need support, then and there, to make sense of their thoughts and feelings in order to relax and fall asleep.
So tomorrow afternoon I’ll be reopening my son’s worry, after initially shutting him down. I might not be able to make things better but the worry will hang around anyway if I do nothing. And a festering worry is like the Mentos and Coke experiment; it will keep on bubbling until it explodes! I know I’ll have to be strong and stay with his feelings; I’ll need to listen and accept how he sees the world; it will help if I give him a hug and words of reassurance; but most of all, I’ll know that he will know its okay to ask questions and talk with me about anything. Because even if I can’t always respond the way I want to in the moment, I’ll try to reflect and revisit at a later stage.
So next time Lord and Lady Self-Doubt of Guiltington show up, remember, it‘s okay to drop the ball. You can pick it up again later.