“Help me understand… vs. Why”

So often they way something is said makes a difference in how a child or teen responds.  I recommend that a parent not ask “why” something happened when it doesn’t make any difference.  After all, what is the point of asking “why” the child spilled the milk.  The child spilled the milk because he or she was wiggling or reaching and not paying attention.  Pick up the glass and hand the child some paper towels.  Consider if the child is uncomfortable in his or her chair, or needs a smaller, lighter cup or glass, or if the child is being asked to sit still for too long for his age.

On the other hand, sometimes it can be very helpful to ask a child or teen to help you understand their thinking in making a mistake or a bad decision.  If you sincerely want to understand your child, asking them to help you understand how they came to make the mistake can open up communication that will allow you to guide their decision-making the next time they face a similar situation.

Key point:  “Why” can make children (and adults) defensive.  A sincere request to “help you understand” can open communication.

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