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Handling the Conversations with Your Kids that Matter Most

By: Laura Bennett

Curiosity is something to be encouraged in our kids, but when they start to ask curly questions about life, faith, and why you make them set the table how do you handle it?

Resorting to the golden oldie “because I said so” works to a point, but we all know sometimes kids need to dig a little deeper.

Parenting expert and psychologist Collett Smart has some tips on how to have meaningful conversations with your kids in a caring way, and help them understand the importance of knowing their values.

Here are Collett’s  answers to 5 questions I asked on this topic:

How do you explain what values are to your kids?

I think values shouldn’t be explained, or defined to start. It’s about modelling and living [them] out in front of your children from a very early age. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect; your values are modelled even when you mess up. You admit to doing something wrong, or that it goes against your values.

If your child [asks directly], “What does ‘values’ actually mean?” Explaining to that child specifically you might say: ‘values teach us our responsibility in the world, they teach us about how to treat others, [they] also teach us about how we should be treated.’ Essentially for me, values are about looking after others, myself, and the earth that we’ve been given.

Is there a way to teach your children that values are important?

I think we all come to a time when we realise values are important. So we might gently point out to our children that every decision that you make is based on a value whether you realise that or not; there’s no such thing as a neutral value system.

Often our values are first revealed in our sense of self-worth. When kids start to think about whether they deserve something or not [within] the family, or they come from school and they’ve been hurt by someone, that’s how we start to talk to them about a person’s worth. We help them realise that their worth is based on some sort of value system that they hold. If a child points out that another child was treated cruelly, you can ask them why they think that [and] how they came to hold this view.

How do you encourage curiosity, but also guide them well?

The first thing is,

1) Don’t pretend to have all the answers.

When your kids come and you’re actually not sure of an answer, tell them that you’ll look it up. You don’t have to have the answer right then and there in that moment. It’s not about a once off conversation.

2) Use their everyday experiences.

Children [question] things in the movies they watch, in their peer groups, on social media – use those opportunities then to extend those conversations. The biggest skill you can teach children when you try to teach them critical thinking is to question their question. [For instance] when they say, “that child was bullied, it’s terrible”, ask them, “why do believe bullying is wrong?” Then wait; let them wrestle with how they came to that conclusion.

3) Point your child to other science-backed resources.

There’s some amazing people who believe science and faith are not incompatible. Resources like Centre for Public Christianity [do] a brilliant job of tackling these hard questions, and they don’t shy away from when Christians have been shameful. [They] have stuff for parents like us to draw on.

What do you do if and when your kids start to disagree with your values or beliefs?

Your children are not always going to agree with you on some of the more peripheral areas, and yes, sometimes even the core [ones]. For me, [I believe] your relationship with your child is more important than being right.. Even when your children turn away from your value system, fighting them and rejecting them isn’t going to make them suddenly turn around and [want] to spend time with you. It’s important to know that sometimes we can be wrong as parents, and be open and kind in your debates and discussion.

If you come from a Christian faith, what age should you start talking about spiritual concepts and your religious beliefs?

I don’t think there’s a specific age; your belief system and your value system should permeate your life …it should form a natural part of your lifestyle, how you model things to your children, how you involve your children in helping others, and the choices you make as an adult. I don’t believe children expect perfection from their parents, they just expect you to be authentic.

Listen: Collett Smart in conversation with Laura Bennett.

Article supplied with thanks to Laura Bennett.

About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia. Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, lecturer and writer.

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