Like many kids, my boys began attending preschool when they were 3 years old. Within weeks of starting school, the strangest thing began happening…I KID YOU NOT…the most well-intentioned adults began asking my boys if they had found a girlfriend yet. I don’t know if it had to do with the fact that their “ocean” had just expanded or what…but I was perplexed by their line of questioning.
Over the past several years since those initial encounters, I have spent many moments considering the implications of asking our children about their love life. While my initial ponderings began as a result of hearing people inquire about my very young sons’ love interests, my ponderings have continued as I have walked through elementary school with my boys and their friends, sat in conversations with my own friends traveling the same road and as I have sat in sessions with preteen and teenaged clients.
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I fully believe that the folks asking my boys if they had girlfriends were well-meaning and intended no harm. Most often, these questions come in the form of teasing and ‘good ole’ fashioned fun’. Other times, the questions may simply come from an innocent place of wanting to know more about the child’s life.
But can we talk for a moment about what’s happening under the surface when these questions are repeated over and over to our children?
We establish the thing to strive for and establish indicators of our children’s personal worth.
Significant other = mission accomplished.
Significant other = personal value established.
Significant other = people are proud of me.
I have watched this equation play out in my own life. Between the ages of 10-15, I cried a sea of tears thinking I was less than my friends because I didn’t have a boyfriend. Well-meaning peers would console me by telling me that someday someone would like me in that way. But until then, I questioned my value…I had not accomplished the mission.
I have watched this equation play out in the lives of my children’s schoolmates. My sons have told me the stories of wedding ceremonies and kisses on the playground. They’ve told me about the boys that have multiple girlfriends and the girls that pester them about being their boyfriend. (Remember…my boys are only 8 and 10).
I have watched this equation play out in the lives of young clients in my counseling office. I have worked to help mend the identity of several teens that question their value because their partner broke up with them and have moved on to someone else. They have interpreted the loss of their significant other as the loss of their value.
If we came from the perspective that the words we speak hold significant weight as our children seek to understand their value, we would trust that even innocent teasing and ‘good ole’ fashioned fun’ have the power to influence the path a child may follow.
Here is the reality…children will believe that their value comes from the topics that are most often brought to the table. This refers to their activities, their performance, their grades, their boyfriend/girlfriend, their appearance, their failures…
BUT OH-SO-FORTUNATELY, the list does not stop there.
My husband often says one of his biggest annoyances is when someone points out the problem but offers no alternatives. I never want to be guilty of that in my writing.
So, I want to offer some other options. Questions we can ask our children that communicate value of who they are from the inside. Questions that call out their uniqueness. Questions that indicate that THEY matter just as they are…not because of how they perform, what they have accomplished, or who they are with.
As a place to start, here are a few alternatives…
What things make you happy?
Tell me something you have learned recently?
Tell me about your dreams?
What’s something that has made you laugh lately?
What’s something you are excited about?
What’s your favorite color and what do you love about it?
Describe your best day ever?
Then, allow your kids to see your eyes light up as they respond…
Together, let’s seek to hear the hearts of our children and let’s seek to demonstrate that there is value in who they uniquely are.