Recently, I was in a setting where I observed a child answering questions from an adult. As the child was answering, their parent would jump in and “correct” their answer, sometimes just answering the question for them. As I watched the child’s face, they seemed to be pleading, “Can I just answer these questions myself?”
Often, as parents, that’s where we find ourselves. We want to jump in and make sure we tell other people the “real” answer, or the part that our child is not saying. I understand that’s especially tempting for adults when we hear our kids tell stories from a perspective that makes it sound like we were not paying attention or making foolish decisions.
However, when you’re tempted to jump in, there are a couple of things to remember. First, people generally know to take a kid’s story that sounds a little far-fetched with a grain of salt. In other words, you don’t need to worry that another adult is going to actually think that you told one of your kids that they were allowed to cut their sibling’s hair or they should try any number of other not age-appropriate activities.
The second thing to remember is even more important than that. In these moments, your child is in the process of learning how to communicate what is going on in their world and how to gain confidence as they speak to adults. The truth is that your child’s depth, maturity, and growth as a person comes partially from you giving them the freedom to figure some of this stuff out on their own. Of course, it’s true that at the age of eight, they can’t speak with some of the wisdom that you have at 28. But that’s just life. In the meantime, let them learn. Be patient with them. Sometimes, as parents, if we back off a little bit, it will allow our kids to mature and blossom on their own.
Obviously, there are times when it’s important for you to step in and help or correct your child as they’re talking with other people. However, unless your kids are looking to you for help or potentially causing issues with their tone or words, the interactions they’re having with adults are important. It’s strange to think about it, but the more skilled your kids are at communicating their thoughts and feelings to adults, the more prepared they will be for interacting with teachers and bosses in the future. You can help them gain the confidence they’ll need by giving them the chance to practice having these adult interactions as they’re growing and learning.
I don’t say any of this to criticize parents who have been answering questions on behalf of their kids. There are plenty of reasons to feel like jumping in is the right decision. Maybe your kids seem to be struggling to find the words and they or you are feeling frustrated or impatient. Maybe they are blending real life and their imaginary world, and you are feeling concerned. Maybe they’re taking the opportunity to go on a tangent about their favorite show or video game, and you’re feeling embarrassed. No matter the situation, I’d encourage you to err on the side of giving them a little more freedom to learn to express themselves. You might not see the benefits right away, but in the long run, I believe it will help you all to win more often at home.