Monday, April 22, 2013

Not Sure What to Do? Ask a Child!

I've been getting smarter about asking for guidance instead of worrying. I've done this through prayer, but more importantly I've started asking my children for ideas. They are old enough now to share their perspective on simple conflicts and worries...and I am amazed at their insight.

We usually think that our job as parents is to guide children toward good decision making and to help them avoid trouble. But communication is a two-way street. Children feel good about sharing advice and ideas that help their family live better. It's a team effort.

Here are a few examples of how to ask your children for advice or ideas to create better relationships.

A few months ago, I had a conflict with a friend and wasn't sure what to do. I felt hurt by circumstances and was disappointed in her lack of communication. One night, I told my daughter about the basics of the situation and asked what she thought I should do. Her answer: "Well, maybe if you talk to her about how you feel, you can work it out."

I knew in my heart that she was right, but my pride had stopped me from reaching out in a meaningful way. Soon after, I communicated with my friend. We have found a way to mend fences and feel like friends again.

This past weekend, I was feeling rather low due to the weather and tragedies in the news. I shared a bit of this with my older daughter and asked her what I should do. Her succinct answer: "You need to play more."

I realized that the long hours at my job, housework and responsibilities to others had left little time for play. So on Sunday I took out my paints and a blank canvas and played for a couple hours. My daughter was spot on. Creating a piece of art with no censorship and for no purpose really lifted my mood.

What I love about asking children for ideas is that their minds and worlds aren't cluttered with assumptions or past experiences that prevent them from brainstorming openly and honestly. They see through our excuses and fake wisdom to a clear and present truth: treat others kindly and be gentle with yourself.

We'd like to think that life isn't that simple, but these past sickening months of political wrangling around nuclear arms, guns, mental health, who should get married, and environmental extremes makes me wonder if it isn't just that simple. If we are healthy and if we value other people, how can we go wrong? Keep choices simple in your own life to endure the complexity of the rest of the world.

I don't recommend asking your children about every issue in your life. That's not their job, but including them in simple discussions about right and wrong choices can support open communication. After all, if you respect them enough to take their advice, they just might trust and respect you enough to get help with their problems later on.

One more idea: On a Sunday afternoon, my family sat down at the table to discuss our values. We came up with six values based on ideas from everyone. I was inspired by my children's ideas about what we value as a family. Our list of values — posted on the refrigerator — has helped us improve our behavior and communication.

Happy Earth Day. Life is good.

Matthew 18:3