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Six Questions to Better Understand Your Child

Knowing your child better comes from better knowing yourself.

Showing your child love is crucial to effective parenting, but so is understanding him—and that is often the critical and missing ingredient in parent-child relationships, especially with children who are emotionally struggling. Tragically, children who are well loved by their parents often do not feel that love if their parents don’t understand them. Parenting without a true understanding of our children influences us to see our kids as we think they are rather than as they really are. I know very few parents who don’t love their children, but I know many parents who don’t understand them.

Most parents believe that if they love their children this will magically convey that they “are here and will always be here.” But parents who never learn how to understand what is really going on in their children’s or teens minds will not be able to grasp how to break the cycle of defiance.

The harsh reality is that children who act out tend to feel misunderstood. Defiant children are more internally complex than how they present to the outside world. We parents become so focused on our kids’ external behaviors that we tend to overlook their inner angst. Understanding is one of the most powerful tools available for creating break-throughs in difficult family patterns, especially with stopping defiance in your child. As you will see below, becoming more mindful of your own thoughts and feelings when you were a child, can help give you more understanding of your child.

It Feels Good to Be Understood

Understanding your child is an important part of helping him become secure and healthy, because it not only shows him you love him but also enourages him to love himself. Please read through the questions below and reflect on them. These questions below will help you see how important feeling understood has been in your own life, so you can more fully appreciate the value of understanding your child.

• Who most understood your feelings, needs, and desires as you were growing up?

• How did you feel about the person who understood you the most?

• Who least understood your feelings, needs, and desires as you were growing up?

• How did you feel about the person who understood you the least?

• How did feeling understood help you to behave in an appropriate manner?

• Did feeling misunderstood ever influence you to make poor choices or to behave in an inappropriate manner? If you answered yes, what did you do?

As you’ll probably see by your responses to the above questions, feeling understood provides us with the emotional leverage to do our best to make good choices and do the right thing on a daily basis. No child or teen ever complains to me that his or her parents show too much understanding and emotional support.

More from Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D.
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