Raising Open-Minded Children in a Closed-Minded Time
At dinner the other night I had a very interesting conversation with a father of two children and a man who was raised by a single mother. The dad asked for opinions about how to raise his children so that they feel self confident and capable without enabling them or telling them to conform. The other guy at the table mentioned that his mother was always very good about answering questions without judgment and did not worry about what others thought. I mentioned that it is often difficult because I want to instill some specific attributes in my child and often have to give the disclaimer of, “this is something that is probably not school appropriate” or “Just because your friends think that its cool doesn’t mean that it is OK.” I am left feeling like I am then adding shame to the open dialogue that I am trying to have with him.
As the conversation continued we all agreed that having open and honest communication with the child being spoken to is key. If a child asks a question then answering in a clear and succinct way shows the child that you are someone that they can trust and who will answer there questions without judgment.
The other point that came out was the importance of checking in with the child about what it is they are asking. Sometimes a child will ask a really simple question and adults will make it more complicated because we are adding in our own experiences. A great example of this is when a child asks, “is that a boy or a girl?”. If you respond with, “what do you think?” then you may find that they have conventions of long hair is a girl and short hair is a boy and someone who looks like a boy but has long hair just walked past and it is a simple conversation about the girls they know with short hair and boys with long hair and that hair does not make the identity. Dan Savage has an example of this where his son says he doesn’t want his daddies to get married and after some conversation they discovered it was because he thought marriage was only for girls and boys and that girls have cooties, so if his dads got married then that would bring girls and cooties into the house.
By the end of the conversation we were all feeling refreshed about what we were doing with our own children as well as what was done well as we were kids. It was inspiring to have a conversation with forward-thinking parents who are concerned about their role in the type of person their child is going to grow up to be and who are vulnerable enough to admit it.