Do You Know What Your Child Thinks?


We can’t assume to know what kids are thinking.

I recently came across a story that underscores how kids often see the world with very different eyes than adults.  Here’s the story.

A little girl was in desperate need of a blood donor, but there was none to be found. As a last resort, the doctors checked her 6-year-old brother—and he was a match!

So the parents and the doctor set the boy down and explained how he could help save his sister so that she wouldn’t die. He just needed to give her his blood.

However, the little boy asked if he could have some time to think about it.  His parents were surprised by the response, but they honored his request to ponder the decision.

The next day, the little boy informed everyone that he agreed to give his sister what she needed.

The hospital staff moved quickly. His sister’s rare blood disorder was at a critical stage, so they could not waste any time.

The medical team put the little boy in a bed next to his sister. As soon as the transfusion began, everyone was thrilled for the little girl.

But a few minutes later, the little boy turned to the doctor and in a quiet voice asked, “How long before I die?”

Yes, the little boy thought that if he gave his blood to his sister, she would live—but he would then die. That’s why he needed some time to think about his decision.

As parents or professionals who work with kids, what can we glean from this story?  Namely, we may need to probe a little in order to discover what kids are truly thinking. We can’t assume that our vantage of the world is the same as theirs.

In the above story, the parents or doctors could have responded as follows when the little boy did not immediately say he’d be a blood donor. “We absolutely respect your decision to give us an answer later, but we’re curious . . . why might you want more time?”

If they had asked that question, right then, everyone would have known that the little boy had misunderstood his role as a donor.

But it doesn’t have to be something as dramatic as the misunderstanding in that story.

At the Brain Highways Center, parents often share their concerns about a behavior specific to their child. For example, they may say that they’re worried that their son is antisocial since he always wanders from the guests at a party and then spends the rest of the time off by himself.

I then always ask, “What does your child say when you ask why he does that?”

To date, I don’t think I’ve ever had a parent respond to that specific question—no matter what concern they have just shared. Instead, they give me a blank look and then note that they have no idea.

In other words, the parents have never asked their child what he or she may be thinking or needing when doing a particular behavior.

Yet, when we do ask the child, more times than not, he or she has a very explicit reason for the behavior which then, more times than not, wipes away a lot of the parents’ initial concern about the situation.

Sometimes, we discover that the child isn’t even aware that he’s doing the behavior of concern or, if he is aware, he does not view it as problematic. Regardless of whatever information the child shares, the parents or professionals now have new insights on how to best move forward.

Note that this gentle probing is not the same as asking a question in a prosecutorial way, where the child thinks he’s being drilled.  Rather, this information-seeking approach is always done with a true sense of curiosity that has no judgment attached to the answer.

So, talk to kids.  Learn how they’re viewing the world.  Their answers may surprise you more than once.

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