Asking the Right Questions

One of the biggest parenting mistakes you can make is in how you respond to your child’s questions or statements about divorce or your co-parent. Too often, parents engage in defensive or factual answers that don’t get at what the child really cares about. Here are a few examples:
“Mom said that if you stop paying child support we might have to move to California.”
Wrong response: “I am so paying child support! What do you mean your moving to California? Over my dead body!”
Better response: “Hmmm. It sounds like you might be worried about one of those things. Tell me what bothers you about what your mom told you.
“Dad said I’m going to be spending more time with him and go to a new school next year. Is that true?”
Wrong response: “He better not be thinking about changing custody again. I am so tired of spending all my hard-earned money on court cases! You don’t really want to go to a new school, do you?”
Better response: “Your father and I haven’t talked about anything like that yet. I’ll mention it to him, but I’m more concerned about how you feel about what he said. Tell me what worries you.”
My favorite: “Dad, when the divorce is final, are you going to date?”
Wrong response: “Oh no way! I will never date again because look what happened to your mom and me?!”
Better response: “That’s an interesting question. What if I do decide to date? Can you tell me what you might be worried about?”
Until you know WHY the child is asking a question or making a statement, you are likely to give the wrong response. What if your child is hoping you will date so he/she doesn’t have to keep you company all the time? What if she is worried about having an evil step-parent or concerned that your dating will interfere with her time with you? Don’t assume. Instead, respond to their statements/questions with a question that addresses the child’s needs, not yours. Then reassure them about the future based on what they tell you.
Notice that the wrong responses turn the conversation toward the parent’s feelings, while the better responses seek to discover how the child might be worried, afraid or concerned. Think about those three words (WAC) whenever your child approaches you with a statement or question that is difficult for you to hear. You can’t go wrong when you focus on how your child is processing information, but you are destined to fail if you make it about your own feelings. Kids are smart and will trust the parent who cares about what matters to them. You have to ask in order to know.