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10 Brave Questions to Ask Your Kids

10 Brave Questions to Ask Your Kids

By Courtney Hollingsworth, LPCbrave parenting

There are a lot of lists of fun questions to ask your kids floating around the web. Lighthearted and funny, they’re great! But here is a list of REALLY brave questions to ask your kids. They may sound straightforward and simple, but asking them, and being truly open to the answers (i.e. being vulnerable) takes real courage. The answers may really surprise you. Listen to them. Should you choose to ask your kids these questions, and I think you ought to, prepare yourself to accept their answers. Period.

-DON’T try to persuade them out of their answer.

-DON’T argue with their point of view.

-DON’T try to justify choices you or your partner have made.

-DON’T downplay the significance of what they’re sharing.

-DON’T laugh when they are serious.

These questions are learning opportunities FOR YOU.

They are not meant to be correcting opportunities. If you feel the urge to push back on their answers, notice where that desire is coming from and your own discomfort. Even if you don’t agree with your child’s perception of something, rather than attempting to change it, wonder why their perception or experience is different than yours. Perhaps even ask them.

Unfortunately, if you’ve already regularly interacted with your child in ways that have communicated (perhaps subtly) any of the following, then you can’t expect an authentic answer from them:

-Rejected their interpretation/perception/experience

-Refused to hear their thoughts or feelings

-Insisted they agree with you

-Assumed that because they are kids their input is inherently inaccurate or inconsequential.

-Invalidated their feelings

Ask yourself, or your co-parent, if these feel true of you. If so, go do your own work with a counselor to improve your own vulnerability in relationships, including with your kid(s).

10 Brave Questions to Ask Your Kids

  • If you could change one thing about your life, what would you change?
  • What is something you wish I would change?
  • What is something you wish your other parent(or caregiver) would change?
  • Do you feel like you can share most things with me? How about your other parent(or caregiver)? If not, is there something I can change?
  • What is something you dislike about our family or would change if you could?
  • Is there anything you’ve wanted to ask an adult about, but haven’t?
  • When you think about the biggest hurt you’ve experienced, what comes to mind?
  • Who are the people you trust the most and distrust the most, and why?
  • Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Has anyone ever touched you in a way that felt uncomfortable or wrong?

The point of these questions is to have an open dialogue and invite your kid to share with you in ways they may not otherwise consider. Some of these questions may need to be tweaked based on the age of your kid, but I strongly believe every single one of these can be asked in some way at any age or stage. For a younger kid, one or two questions per conversation, more for middle-aged kids, and teens might be able to have one whole conversation, though maybe not depending on their personality.  And don’t ask these only once. Ask them every so often! And if your kid shares something that falls into the category of abuse, bullying, self-harm, etc. DO SOMETHING. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask your child’s school counselor, pediatrician, or make an appointment with a counselor.

Survival Tips for the Holidays

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Here are a few small tips for changing the ways you engage with your relatives around the holidays. It isn’t easy to change the ways we relate to people we’ve known most or all of our lives, but it is often worth the work. This list is by no means conclusive, but a good place to start.

Take people at their word.

Try to notice how often you are attempting to read between the lines of others’ words or times when you feel expected to know what someone else feels or wants without them actually saying anything. Reading between the lines or finding the hidden meeting is common in family systems that operate more passive aggressively. Taking people at their word forces others to speak up on their own behalf, say what they really mean, and address one another with respect.

Mean your words.

The reverse of taking people at their words is true as well. If you are frequently not saying what you truly mean, then feel upset when others are not doing as you want, odds are you were not meaning your words. Speak directly and kindly, and you can avoid many of the passive-aggressive communication games that conflict avoidant families tend to get bogged down in.

Check your expectations.

Holidays are filled with expectations and typically time with family is also, therefore holidays with family members can be a double whammy. It can become the perfect traffic jam of various expectations.

Know your limits.

Try to realistically assess your limits on various planes prior to making your holiday plans. Are there certain family members you have a lower tolerance for spending time around? Is your social/extroversion threshold depleted more quickly at family gatherings? Are there certain relatives’ houses where you become a worse version of yourself longer you stay? Does being around babies and toddlers bring out the worst in you? Is your alcohol tolerance lowered in family settings? Assessing your limits prior to making your plans can help you make a more informed choice, and perhaps plan action steps toward self-care when you can’t predict that your limits will be tested and or pushed.

Know your triggers.

This one is similar to knowing your limits, in that it can be helpful to do some self-assessment prior to walking into family dynamics that are laden with emotional landmines. Try to think about instances in the past when time spent with family has led to blow-ups, arguments, hurt feelings, or even the silent (or shouted) conclusion that you’ll never go back again. Try to see if there’s a pattern between these various situations. Do you tend to be triggered by your mom’s passive aggressive comments? Do you tend to be triggered by your brother’s constant bragging about his successful career? Do you tend to be triggered by your niece talking all of the toys leaving them for the other cousins? Whatever your triggers, knowing them in advance can help prevent them from being a surprise, or even activated at all.

Make a private game of unavoidable unpleasantries.

Now, this is a little bit nuanced because it needs to be done discreetly and with wisdom, but can be helpful in surviving unavoidable unpleasantries. However, if you and your spouse or sibling share a negative feeling towards a person or behavior, you can make a private game out of how often you have to witness or endure that behavior. For example: does your dad tend to condescendingly correct other peoples grammar? Making bets on how often that will happen during the time that you spend with him. Does your aunt make snide comments under her breath? Rather than fume as you, it can be a survival strategy to find a way to laugh about it. What makes this game nuanced is you certainly don’t want others to find out about it or extend it to the point of being disrespectful.

Seven Desires of Every Heart

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

In their book, The Seven Desires of Every Heart, Mark and Debra Laaser outline the following seven universal desires that every person has – regardless of age, gender, culture, or religious background:  

  • To be heard and understood  

This includes thoughts, feelings, needs, struggles, and opinions.

  • To be affirmed (specific and concrete acknowledgement of someone’s strengths)

This includes specific and concrete acknowledgement of one’s strengths.

  • To be blessed

Not only being affirmed for specific strengths and things we do well, but knowing that we are worthy and loved just for being who you are (not what you do).

  • To be safe

This includes physical, mental, emotional, and sexual safety.  

  • To be touched

We never outgrow the need for non-sexual touch and particularly a lack of confusion between sexual and non-sexual touch.  

  • To be chosen

  • To be included (more of a community aspect than “to be chosen”)

This is more of a community aspect than “to be chosen” above.

When you think about your own life and experience, how have these needs been met or left unfulfilled for you?  Perhaps it would be helpful to read that list again.  Often, when needs are met, we are not even explicitly aware that we had the need because it was inherently satisfied.  However, when our needs are not met, it can be overwhelming and stir within us very strong emotions.  We can become angry with the person not meeting our needs. We can become angry with ourselves for having the need.  Or think there must be something wrong with us for having the need in the first place. Unmet needs, particularly in childhood, can shape us deeply.

If you can identify one or more needs above that have been left unfulfilled in childhood, in a previous stage of life, or currently, I would encourage you to consider – what does it look like to grieve that unmet need?  Perhaps it looks like naming what has been left unfulfilled and allowing yourself space to sit in the sadness of the fact that you, as a human being, have a fundamental need that has not been met.  Can you give yourself permission to do that?

The motivation for considering these unmet needs in your life is not to point a finger of blame for pain you have experienced, but rather to grow in awareness of how your heart and mind have been shaped and how that impacts the way you engage in relationship with yourself and others.  And to consider where there is cause for rejoicing…and where there is a need to grieve.  Doing so ultimately allows us to live whole-heartedly and connect more fully with others.

The Danger Your Kids Need You Notice

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

We protect our kids from germs, strangers, bullies, curse words, sunburns, violent movies, car accidents, trips and falls, traumatic news stories, mosquitos, too much sugar, a chill in the air. We go to great lengths to keep them safe. And yet many of us are overlooking an ever present danger. In fact, we are handing it to them.

Would you let your kid wander around an adult video or book store? Of course not! The impact could cause a great deal of harm to such a young, impressionable mind. It certainly would not be the way you’d like your child introduced to sexuality or be educated on what mature naked bodies look like or on how babies are made.

That is essentially what you are doing when you give your child a phone, tablet, or any other device that has access to a search engine without any filters or parental controls.

You may think this is an exaggeration, and perhaps it is, though not a big one. The generation raising kids at this moment in history did not grow up with the world at our fingertips, which is quite literally the reality for kids today. With a few simple taps of their fingers kids can see images, videos, and words of pretty much anything in the world. Anything. And kids know it. Curious about something? Overhear other kids talking about something you don’t know about? Have a question you don’t want to ask an adult? Google it! Kids are curious by nature and they have easy and immediate access to more information than probably all the generations before them combined!

 Unlike the web search history on a browser, you cannot erase the images from your child’s mind they will readily find.

The vast amount of sexual material readily available on the internet is astounding. Kids are more and more, younger and younger, stumbling across pornography without even know what it is. They simply take their curiosity to the place they’ve already learned holds all the answers, the internet. Unfortunately, the internet does not provide child appropriate, parent approved, or even accurate images and information for their curiosity.

If you wait until your child comes to you asking about sex, pornography, girls and boys kissing, girls and girls kissing, boys and boys kissing, where babies come from, the sexual anatomy of the opposite sex, or any other sexually related thing they may be curious about or have overheard, it will be too late. If you wait until you catch them looking at sexually explicit images or videos on the internet, it is too late. Talk to them BEFORE this happens. Add filters and parental controls BEFORE this happens. Protect your kids from the stuff that isn’t good for them BEFORE they find it without even knowing what they’re doing.

The next blog will introduce some resources that might be helpful with regards to these topics.

 

 

When We Lie to Our Kids

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

There are many reasons why adults lie to kids. Kids are gullible. It’s in their best interest. It’s to protect them. They wouldn’t understand the truth. It’s easier. It’s just a little white lie.

Once you begin to erode your kid’s trust in your word, it’s a very slippery slope.

One that is much more difficult to climb back up than the discomfort or inconvenience that sometimes accompanies telling the truth. Even “small” lies can cause severe damage. A tornado can destroy a house, but so can termites.

Here’s the truth: Kids know. Maybe not every time. Maybe not very early on. But soon enough, they know more than we adults realize, and by the time we do, we’ve already damaged their trust in us. Researchers at MIT have confirmed this truth. Think about when you were a kid and you were internally questioning something an adult told you. I bet a specific scenario or a specific person readily popped into your head.

Kids inherently and subconsciously know they are dependent on adults to survive. This is why a child going out the front door and walking wherever they please is a rare event. It is what causes that brief panic in a store when a kid feels lost. Many children are not even willing to go into the basement alone. Their security is in their attachment to a more competent and trustworthy individual, an adult, because of their inherent knowledge that they are not competent to care for themselves in this world. There is a very healthy importance to this attachment, and in order for it to be healthy, it has to be one they can depend on. Lying and withholding information causes deep fractures to the security of this bond. More simply, it causes deep hurt to our children.

When kids are lied to, not only do they begin to question their trust in the person who’s lying, they also learn to mistrust themselves. When what they know or feel is true is being redefined for them as not true, they are learning self-doubt and a mistrust of the world. When a kid is told that what they know is true, is untrue, they are learning that they can’t trust themselves. This makes them susceptible to bullying, mean friends, sexual abuse, manipulation, abusive dating partners, and the list goes on.

So while a little white lie can feel harmless, it has the power to do far more damage than the truth.

Kids, Feelings, and Parents, Oh My!

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

Inspired by How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Parenting is exhausting.  Taking part in relationships with adults who struggle to communicate their emotions is hard enough, but engaging with kids who don’t know what they are feeling or how to tell you their feelings is even harder!  Being in tune with our children’s emotions and experiences allows us to more naturally engage in our relationship with them.

Just because kids are “young, little, a baby” does not mean their emotional experiences are less real or matter less than our own experiences.

The author of How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk describes her experience of parenting and how she “could be accepting about most of the feelings [her] children had, but let one of them tell me something that made me angry or anxious and I’d instantly revert to my old way [of parenting]” (page 3).  Her old ways were when she would disregard, minimize, invalidate, avoid, or ignore another person’s experience.

How do we feel when someone disregards our feelings?  How do we feel when people pretend they didn’t hear what we said? Or, when people try to “help” or “fix” a situation when all we want is someone to listen.

When we feel listened to and understood it is easier for us to manage our emotional responses.  The same happens with our children.

When they feel listened to and understood, they are able to work through their emotional experiences and problem solve more clearly.   Often, children are just wanting someone to intently listen to them.  Our attunement to the conversation and small responses, like “uh-huh” allow our children to know we are paying attention.  This response only works if you are looking at them, not at a screen!

Children need help naming their emotions and giving words to their experience.

The naming of emotions acknowledges their experience and helps to increase their engagement in the relationship. It also helps to teach children about emotions.  It can be helpful to have an emotions chart on the refrigerator with faces on it, or for older kids a wheel of emotions.

Being in relationship with our kids is hard work. This hard work is laying the framework for better relationships as they age. We hope they have learned about their emotions and how to verbalize them and deal with them safely.   We are teaching something important to our children that they don’t yet know is important!

How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish…Or Don’t: How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

Do the books we read to our children cultivate emotional intelligence, or communicate subtle messages discouraging awareness and honest expression of feelings?

Smile, Mr. Fish! You look so down. With your glum-glum face and your pout-pout frown. No need to be worried. No need to be sad. No need to be scared. No need to be mad! How about a smooch? And a cheer-up wish? Now you look happy: what a smile, Mr. Fish!

Of all the books my little one loves, this one most often gets relentlessly stuck in my head! With its well-crafted rhyme and adorable pictures, it captivates its little (and big) audience quite well. But the subtle message of the book has always made me a bit uneasy: you shouldn’t be sad, worried, or scared; there, you’re happy, that’s acceptable and good.  I realize there is a strong possibility that I am over-analyzing the book, but at the same time, I think subtle messages like this are important to be mindful of – both that we have been taught and that we are passing along to our kids (or nieces/nephews, friends’ kids, etc.).

If taken too far, a child can internalize that the only acceptable emotion is to be happy…which will have great consequences in his or her ability cultivate emotional intelligence and to healthily navigate life.

Accordingly, I found this article, published by the Gottman Institute, to be very helpful in identifying the following three do’s and don’ts for developing a child’s emotional intelligence:

  • Do recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect. Don’t punish, dismiss, or scold your child for being emotional.

    Do help your child label their emotions. — Don’t convey judgment or frustration.

  • Do set limits and problem-solve. — Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to learn and grow.

 

Given these guides, perhaps a helpful re-write of the book might read like this:

Hey, Mr. Fish, you look so down. With your glum, glum face and your pout, pout frown. Come sit beside me, I see your broken toy has made you sad. I would be, too, if it was the favorite toy I had. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be mad. But we cannot hit and we cannot squeal. How else can you show the sadness you feel?

 

 

 

Why are some relationships just harder?

 

Why are some relationships just harder?

by: Andy Gear, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

I’ve recently seen some articles asserting that ‘if people just communicated and committed to their relationship, then their problems would go away.’ While communication and commitment are very important, I think this overlooks the many people who are committed and communicating but still struggle.

In fact, I find that many people that come in for couples counseling are deeply committed and are communicating very clearly. Then why are these relationships still difficult?

We have outside stressors

Many of the sources of relationship difficulty have nothing to do with the effort invested in the relationship. In fact, studies show that some of the biggest predictors of relationship difficulty are largely outside of the couple’s control:

  • Poor health
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage after 20 weeks
  • Low income
  • Multiple children with ADHD
  • Partner with mental health issues
  • Death of a child

If your friend seems to have an easier relationship than you, it may have more to do with your different stressors than it does with different effort. Actually, I find that most couples that come to counseling have been working tirelessly on their relationship. If they weren’t trying, they wouldn’t be coming to counseling. But with major or persistent stressors, communication can become a minefield. And it’s not always as easy as learning a few communication skills.

I am overjoyed when I see people who have easier relationships. But there is something uniquely encouraging about a couple that is still trying after years of difficulty. It takes a special type of courage and commitment to seek the help you need to better love your partner, even when it’s hard.

Our families are different

The families we’re born into also impact the ease or difficulty of our relationships. For better or worse, parents model what relationships are like, and some people have better models than others. We can choose to act differently than our parents, but in stressful times we tend to fall back into the patterns we saw modeled (or against the pattern, in an equally harmful overcorrection).  

Parents teach us what love is, how to show it, and how to receive it. They also teach us how to view ourselves. If our parents were neglectful or abusive, they gave us a distorted picture of our self. Without working through these issues, this lack of self-worth will lead us to look for that worth in our partner—creating challenging and often volatile relationships.

This requires more than a simple resolution to change. It takes awareness of how our families impacted our view of the world, relationship, and our self. Since our families tend to be our normal, we often need an outside perspective to help us heal from this impact. This doesn’t mean that you are too weak to handle it alone; it means that you are strong enough to pursue what is necessary to change it.  

We get stuck in a cycle

Couples often get stuck in patterns of relating that rob them of their joy in connecting. These cycles have nothing to do with their effort, compatibility, or how much they love each other. In fact, the fear of losing the other is often what escalates the conflict.  

The most common negative cycle is the pursue/distance (or attack/withdraw) pattern. People usually aren’t even aware that they are in this cycle. Most often, each partner simply sees the other as being unnecessarily critical or distant. It is hard for people stuck in this pattern to see the bigger picture.

Beneath this cycle, both partners truly value their connection, but they seek to preserve it in different ways: the pursuer by attacking  (to get through to them) and the distancer by withdrawing (to avoid conflict). Their mutual attempts to save the relationship (seen as criticism or lack of care by the other), only escalate the problem as each person doubles down on their ‘go-to’ strategy for preserving the relationship.

In these cases, demands for more communication will only push the withdrawer deeper into his bunker. Instead, we need help gaining awareness of our own role in the harmful cycle, so that we can interrupt it and develop a healthier pattern of relating.

Everybody’s relationship is different

It isn’t useful to compare our relationships to others, because everyone’s history and circumstances are different. Learning a few communication skills may be very helpful for someone whose relationship has had few stressors, had model parents, and hasn’t been stuck in a cycle.

For others, there will be too much anxiety and conflict in the relationship for communication skills to be the answer. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, that you don’t love each other, or that you aren’t compatible. Relationships are messy, and life often leaves us in places where we need help sorting out the pieces. In my opinion, one of the surest signs that someone loves and is committed to their partner is that they are willing to seek help during the hard times.

Do You Have Mommy Issues?

mum
by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Do You Have Mommy Issues?

It is often said of grown women who exploit their bodies for attention from men must have “daddy issues.” A topic less discussed, probably because it is less obvious, is that of with “mommy issues.” From our first moments in the world, we are dependent on our mothers, or our mother-figure, for our well being, our needs, our safety….both physically and emotionally.

An important step in understanding yourself is asking the question “Do I have Mommy issues?”

Our culture, and many others, reveres motherhood with a sacredness that does not leave much room for criticism. And yet, as every human has different gifts and imperfections, so does every mother. The reality that this has an impact on the impressionable children who look to her to define and explain the world as they grow to understand it, cannot be refuted.

Now that I have ruffled our cultural feathers, and perhaps yours, let me clarify. I’m not talking about blame. As adults, we are responsible for our lives and actions. What I’m talking about is understanding. Understanding how you have become who you are, understanding where you may have learned ways of doing life that are hindering you, understanding the impact of this significant woman. All that she is and all that she is not.

If your mother struggles with her own security, sense of self, or emotional life, that will have had an impact on your own growth as a person. If she wrestled with empty places inside herself, then she had less to give you than you needed. If her dark places often resulted in ugliness spilling out onto you, then you carried more than you were able to as a child. If what she lacked inside herself created a vacuum that sucked more from you than you had to give, then you wore the burden of striving to meet unmeetable emotional needs.
Do you ever ask yourself these any of these questions:
  • Will I ever be good enough?
  • Why do I feel unlovable?
  • Why do I never feel good enough?
  • Why do I feel so empty?
  • Why do I always doubt myself?
If you do or have in the past, it might be worth looking back over your relationship with your mom. The ways it blessed you and the ways it pained you. The complicated nature of this vitally important relationship makes such a profound impact, it is one of the most important keys to understanding ourselves.

Do you Love Me? From the Perspective of a Foster Kid

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Do you Love Me?

 

It is a question each of us longs to hear the answer to from those we care about most – Do you love me?

Mustering the courage to ask the question takes great risk, doesn’t it? Because once the question is asked, out loud, to the person we hope will say yes, all we can do is wait for their response. Those few seconds from the time the question is asked to the moment the person answers, feels like an eternity. We are, in that moment, at our most vulnerable place. Naked in our need to be loved. Hoping they will say yes. Hoping that our longing to know we matter in this world will be eased in their “yes.”

Some friends of mine became foster parents this past year. The wife of this couple started sharing some of her experiences on her website. I have valued her honesty and vulnerability. In my opinion, I think anyone who is a caring foster parent deserves many awards. Non-stop praise. They are courageous, vulnerable, giving, and brave. I have two images in my mind when I think of caring foster parents – a punching bag and bean bag. Their role requires them to absorb the “blows,” yet remain as welcoming as a bean bag. Hard stuff, people. Hard stuff.

In one of her recent posts titled Head and Heart, she shares about a time when one of her foster kids asked, in essence, “Do you love me?” She asked my friend if she loved her husband more than her. Whoa, that’s big time. I could imagine myself in that moment. Speechless. Knowing that however I would answer wouldn’t satiate this child’s longing to feel loved, as she lives in a world that causes her to wonder if she matters on a daily basis.

I have learned in my job and my life that sometimes what’s most important isn’t the question itself, but what the question reveals about the asker. When I hear the question being asked by this foster child, “do you love me more than your husband?” I don’t think she is looking for a yes or no answer. Actually, I don’t even think this is the true question of her heart. I hear her asking in that moment, “Do I matter? Am I loved?” Even though you are in the room with her, she feels alone in this world. Foster children live within a world that forces them to continually question their worth. She feels alone, disregarded, and confused. What she has been taught about love and loving another is most likely skewed and distorted.

At this point I think its important to note that ALL kids ask this question – foster, biological, or stepchildren. Kids are curious little creatures. Trying to make sense of what they see, feel, hear, and think. I also think its very important to take into account the child’s developmental level and how they intrinsically process input. All of these things matter in how we respond. A 5 year old asking this question is different than a 10 year old. The trauma in their life story is important. All of their uniqueness is important and needs to be taken into account.

I don’t think there is a perfect way to answer this question, and really, I don’t even think the question necessitates an answer. What I mean is we first must learn from the child a bit more about what is motivating them to ask the question. What longing are they thinking about? Are they trying to make sense of love and loving another? How do we figure out what’s really behind the question? Ask questions!

“Do I love you MORE THAN my husband? Hmmmm, good question! Well let’s talk about it! What made you think to ask that question? Is this something you’ve been thinking about for a while? What do you think love is? What do you think it means to love someone else? Do you think there is different kinds of love? When you think about love, do you love your brother like you do your friends at school?”

These questions will hopefully help reveal what’s truly on their mind. They will help you learn about how they think about love and relationships. Knowing these answers will better equip you to walk with them and talk to them about their wonderings and longings.