Children are inquisitive by nature and this curiosity isn't just limited to the world around them. They also wish to know more about the two most important individuals in their lives - their parents.
Interest in a parent's past isn't just limited to tweens but also extends to teens, who normally prefer to keep a distance between themselves and their parents. Some of the questions that tweens/teens usually ask parents are:
What was your childhood like?
What made you feel happy as a child?
Were you good in studies? What grades did you usually get?
Did your parents ever punish you by scolding or hitting you?
How did you meet and end up marrying mom/dad?
What is the best/worst memory of your childhood?
When was the first time you smoked a cigarette? (usually to parents who smoke)
Why children want to know about their parent's past
Apart from being curious, your child may question you your past for some other reasons too - to understand you better as a human being, form a perspective about life, learn about relationships, or take guidance from your example.
While you can give simple responses to some questions, the answers to others may not be so easy and can make you think about what you should say. But, when you know that your child has valid reasons for asking you about your past, you may not want to evade it either.
The way you deal with your child's questions can set her thinking. She may begin to wonder if you are being honest, whether there something you're reluctant to share with her, or if what you say should be a good guideline for her to follow.
With so much at stake, it is important for you to understand how and what to share about your past with your child. Here are four tips to help you:
Don't be evasive: Children, especially teens, observe their parents very closely and can understand when parents aren't forthcoming or completely honest. If your child asks you an uncomfortable question, don't change the subject or get angry or turn him down saying you will answer it later. Your evasive attitude can convey to your child that he shouldn't ask such questions. It can also make him wonder if he should be similarly reticent about himself. Your child may end up confused about who to ask about your past. When your child's questions makes you uneasy, find out what made him ask such a question. This will help you understand what's going on in your child's mind. It will also help you frame an answer that suits his needs - give only as much information as he needs and in an age-appropriate manner.
Tell the truth: As inexperienced youngsters, all of us made mistakes. But, as a parent, you may be afraid to reveal them to your child because you think you will lose the moral authority to correct her mistakes. So, you may, at times, lie to your child about your past. But, if your child finds out that you have lied to her, it can make her trust you less. Hence, if you have to share distasteful details from your past with your child, make it a learning experience. Teach her what she should or shouldn't do, if she is ever in a similar situation. Also, tell her that you were not happy with what happened and that, you now know more about the consequences of such mistakes. Hence, emphasise to her that you trust her and believe she will not repeat your actions. Being honest with your child helps her learn to be truthful as well.
Exercise good judgement: What parents say and how they say it can profound affect the way children think and perceive the world around them. So, when you share something about your past, exercise good judgment about how much you should reveal to your child. Also, before revealing anything, consider carefully if what you say will benefit your child in any way. Remember, your child will not know how to cope with the emotions that details of your past may evoke in her.
Remember the goal: It is a parent's responsibility to be there for the child, guide him in the right direction and keep communication channels open. When your child wants to know something about your past and you share it with him, he feels connected to you. He will feel that you have a perspective about life from which he can learn. More important, he will know that he can be similarly honest and share things about his life with you.
While it is good to be honest and forthcoming, know that your child may not be able to empathise with every detail from your past. Also, you have the right to keep certain details of your life private, as revealing some of your misdemeanours may encourage your child to try them out herself.
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