Imagine helping kids to start a conversation without worrying about where it will end up. As adults we often think we know where a conversation should go, think we know the answers. But do we always know best?
In a previous post, we wrote about conversations without questions. We suggested avoiding questions in hard talks with kids, teens, and significant others. In these circumstances, questions often seem pedantic and can put the other person on the spot (“Why would you do that?”, “What were you thinking?”) … not a good strategy for achieving mutual understanding when talking about something of importance. In this post, we want to talk about conversations without answers.
Parents often struggle when there is conflict between kids because they feel they need to find answers, to fix problems. They either avoid the tension by separating the kids, or push an imposed resolution that makes little sense to young ones. What if we grown-ups enter into conversations about conflict without being responsible for finding the answer? Are we really the ones most qualified to find the answers anyhow?
When there is a conflict, one of the great gifts we can give our kids is simply to help them acknowledge feelings and make sure everyone feels heard and understood. From this place of understanding, it is easy (and enlightening) to then invite all involved to consider a solution. Help children be heard and understood, and then stand back to watch their natural problem-solving skills kick in. Sometimes the answers come easily, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes it is enough merely to acknowledge that there has been a conflict and exchange apologies. There doesn’t always have to be an answer; but there can always be reconciliation.
If we are the kinds of people who don’t like uncertainty, then we are likely to push for answers in order to put ourselves at ease. By relaxing our impulse to fix problems, we are able to cultivate more open conversations between kids, in which they are more free to discover solutions for themselves. If we’re honest with ourselves, we also sometimes carry around our own memories of personal conflict. When this is true, it’s even more important to help kids work out problems in their own power, so that we don’t press them inappropriately to a conclusion meant to satisfy us.
Make room for more creative solutions in conversations between children by not assuming that we know the answers to their problems: a conversation begun without an answer in mind is one that encourages full participation. The wise grown-up will recognize that this strategy is not only suitable for children.
[This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]