What Kids Will Tell a Psychologist, But Are Often Afraid to Tell Their Parents

Do you remember being a kid and wishing you could say something, but you were afraid to say it?

For that matter, is there something you wish you could have told someone this week but held back? Well, we all have observations or statements we would like to make, but as a child psychologist, I have had the opportunity to talk to many children about various matters they afraid to say to their parents but wish they could (and probably should).

I am not talking about smarting off or trying to get something they want; I am talking about matters of heart, mind and soul and issues that influences lives over the generations. They are the kinds of things I wish (but kind of don’t wish, from an emotional sense) my kids would say to me if they felt it was needed. So, in no particular order, here are a few things I have heard other kids say, and your kids might be thinking:

“Why do I have to apologize when my dad doesn’t.” Kids begin to learn right and wrong in the first few years of life, initially from what their parents and other authority figures tell them as so. Although adults retain a “pedestal” status for a little longer after morality begins to develop, it isn’t long before children start to notice how we as parents respond to our mistakes. School age children pick up on whether parents acknowledge our overreactions, blunders or misattributions. Over time, this not only influences youth’s perception of how impenetrable parents are in regard to their own errors, it also influences the likelihood that a child or adolescent will apologize themselves.

“Why is he (mom’s boyfriend) living in the house when they just got divorced?” I have been struck by the number of times over the years that parents are quick to make decisions of residence without even mentioning this new arrangement to their kids, as if it is synonymous with moving a new dresser into the bedroom. As a parent once told me, this is an “adult decision” and not theirs to make. Well, yes, it is an adult decision, but it can severely affect your child in so many ways and should be treated as such. Beyond even changes in living situations, it is also interesting that kids pick up on the friendships their parents have and can note inconsistencies about whom their parents want them to “hang out” with versus who mom or dad does. If your friend is a drinking, cursing, crass individual and you are trying to convince your kid to move onto a “better” crowd, it might be a difficult sell.

“I hate when she smokes because I don’t want mom to die.” Whether it is eating or smoking or drinking or any other bad habit, kids are saddened by their parents’ unhealthiness. Beyond any discomfort or awkwardness this habit may cause them, kids no doubt hate to see their parents struggling with habits that cause them pain. The opposite is also true; kids love to talk and spread the word about ways their parents are thriving in various ways.

“Mom and dad always argue, and they get mad over everything.” This is probably one of the most common types of statements I hear. Now, with every perceived reality is always the question of where the truth lies, and I no doubt feel that in some instances, this statement doesn’t always reflect the real climate of the household. But in some homes it does, and it exposes a level of tension that kids know full well is both unhealthy and stifling. They are keenly in tune to our irritability and edginess, and the sense that angry statements outnumber happy ones in the house.

“He never does it so why should I have to.” I have had more than one boy comment that his father never seems to get off the couch and help, so why should he. Again, there are times where double standards with parents and kids are appropriate (e.g., you can’t drive, but I can) and where responsibilities aren’t necessarily going to be arranged in a perfect symmetrical fashion. But I have to remind myself regularly of what I know. If I want my kids to develop in certain areas and take on new tasks, I have to show the capability and regularity of doing so myself. Otherwise, I sure am not backing up what I say with what I do.

“I never hear anything about the good things I do.” As a parent, it takes almost no reflective thought to comment when our kids get in arguments, leave clothes on the floor or plug the toilet with an insane amount of toilet paper. But noting the times they do well, or comply well with mundane requests, isn’t always the first things that come to our minds or tongues. Yet all the available research would say that regular comments about went right will not only help the relationships we have, but diminish the likelihood of what will go wrong.

“I really do care about what they think of me.” I end this segment on a positive note even if our kids (especially adolescents) are reluctant to admit it. As this week of work ended, I heard this idea stated once more, and it is one that is repeatedly noted when youth are polled on a variety of issues. As our children get older, they may act as if they don’t care what we think about them and what they do. Yet if the labels of Mom and Dad reflect the time and attention we have given them, then they care more than we know, and even they know. It is embedded into the deep recesses of their mind and in the mannerisms and statements that probably appear eerily familiar. They may not always like you, but the hope is they will always love you.

And maybe, just maybe, this they will actually say.

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