If You Want Your Kids to Talk to You About Anything…
…you have to talk to them about everything. From the very beginning.
At an out-of-town wedding earlier this year, my brother, my son, my step-brother, myself and others, were sitting around the hotel pool, chatting. As it does sometimes with a group of men-boys, the conversation got colorful and my son, who is 10, said something that maybe he shouldn’t have but it cracked everyone up. I gave him “The Look” and he backed away and jumped into the water to play with his cousins. My brother asked me how my son knows about “that stuff” and I said, “He asked one day.”
Insert awkward pause.
Then I asked my brother if his oldest son, who is about to turn 16, was dating and “stuff.” He promptly replied with an “I don’t know” and seemed a little stunned that I would ask that question.
I replied, “What do you mean you don’t know? He hasn’t told you?”
“Nah,” he said, “He doesn’t tell me anything.”
“You don’t talk about girls and relationships and dating and stuff?”
“Nope, I just told him that girls are all liars and whores.”
W. T. A. F.?
It was my turn to be stunned but then I said, “Does that include me?”
He didn’t say anything after that.
I’ve always been as age-appropriately honest with my son as I can be and have relied on his judgement to tell me when he’s heard enough. I have not been let down by his own self-awareness, usually ending the conversation with an “I think I’m good.”
As many mothers know, children like to follow you everywhere, including to the bathroom while you pee. My son was about 2 and a half when he walked in to the bathroom as I was dealing with my period. He asked me rather casually why I made red pee. I told him that it wasn’t pee but blood. As one would expect, he was a bit horrified and asked if I was okay. I said that I was and that I’d be right out.
I didn’t make a big fuss of it and I didn’t give him any more explanation. He seemed satisfied that I had the situation under control and he needn’t worry. After some time and as his language skills improved, he noticed that it kept happening and inquired as to why I bled so often if I wasn’t hurt.
I explained it like this: every month a woman’s body tries to make a baby. If she is unsuccessful, an organ that only women have bleeds before it can try again. His little mind seemed to think that this process was a bit excessive and I agreed.
As time went on, more questions were raised, more information was provided and I would ask if he wanted me to go on. He has since stopped following me into the bathroom, thankfully, but what he has though, is a thorough understanding of menstruation, what it involves, how I feel when it is happening, its role in the creation of a baby and where babies come from and how they are made. He’s ten and he knows more than his peers but what he knows is the reality of it. As he enters his preteen years and “the talks” should begin happening, he already has this knowledge. He feels like he knows that he is not ready for any of the activities that involve making babies.
I remember when he was an infant and another parent heard me talking to him, they said something like, “The words you use are too big for that baby,” gave me a disappointed look and then walked away. I thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. My words are too big? Uh, okay. I never used baby talk, I never talked down to him, and I included him in every conversation I was having.
I never saw the point in being condescending to a child. I also never assumed that he was just a little adult. I knew that he didn’t have the capacity to understand some things or the cognitive function to be able to figure out some other things but when it came to language, I let his mind chew on the words and figure out what they meant. Because of his ability to think like this, I let him tell me when he wants more information and when he’s heard enough. His teachers remark that is knowledge base is larger than the grade he is in and that his communication skills are excellent.
I credit that to talking to him about everything.
Another way this shows up in our lives is that he will approach me and ask if we can have a talk. I let him lead and he’ll let me know what is on his mind. Sometimes this is about relationships between him and his friends or about schoolwork, or about political events, current events or whatever. If I want that open link to him and his world when he is going through the tumultuous time of adolescence and puberty, those doors needed to have been opened years before.
I don’t think a child can be expected to open up fully and divulge intimate issues or concerns with parents who have cut them off from that subject matter in the years prior. Being willing to talk with your kids about anything, even things you don’t know much about, is necessary. If you don’t know, find out together.
There is a balance between what is age appropriate, what is private, and what is suitable. I have to make a judgement call regarding how much information to start with. I don’t hide money matters, financial issues, what things cost, what my income is, how our bodies work, how the world works, how the car works.
I need to be willing to talk about things with him if I want him to talk about things with me. He needs to feel safe talking with me about anything: physics, the role of technology on humans, if moving to Mars is a good idea, what “that” part of his body does, why girls don’t have “that”, why is the cat doing that to the stuffed animal… The mundane, the academic, the intimate, the general, et cetera, et cetera.
I feel concern for my nephew. I feel like I want to reach out to him and just let him know that he can talk to me but I think that those doors have closed. I feel like the future holds an arms-length relationship for those two, my brother and his oldest, especially if times get tough. I predict that my brother will wonder why his oldest doesn’t let him in, or want to talk with him or be closer. I want these doors of communication open with me and my children.
I want a close relationship with them but it has to be on mutual terms. If I want him to listen to me, then I have to listen to him.
They say the best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago and the second-best time is today. The same is true for talking with your children.