How to Tune in on What Your Kids Are Thinking

Posted September 12, 2008 by

I have learned that “thinking out loud” when applied in the appropriate way can be very useful.  However, be careful: when used indiscriminately, it can cause trouble.

As parents most of us experience what the consequences are for thinking out loud in the presence of our children. When we say we’re thinking about something, the kids conveniently overlook or forget that we said, “I’m thinking about” and substitute the words, “We’re going to.”  Many of us have all been victims of that slip of the tongue; perhaps more than once.  When we practice this it becomes a lose-lose situation, we lose our credibility and the kids lose out on what they thought was going to be a treat.

I remember as a youngster, watching and listening as my father did a challenging home project and noticed how he talked to himself during every stage of the job.  He would ask himself questions about the next step and answer them. He was thinking out loud. A few years later I became conscious of doing the same thing myself and even “patting myself on the back” when I did something right.  I learned that this sort of thought process could be very beneficial.  In other words, “thinking out loud,” when applied in the appropriate place comes in handy; however, when we’re indiscriminant, it could cause trouble.

You might have noticed when your children were younger that they did a lot of thinking out loud.  “When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor and save people,” or “I’m going to be a mommy like you.”  As they grow older, that sort of talk seems to stop, have you ever wondered what was the cause?  I discovered it happens when our kids meet the dream stealers in their lives that declare what they can or cannot do.  Barriers were placed in front of their dreams and they ceased to “dream out loud” for fear of being seen as silly or dumb.  This is especially true for teens that don’t trust their parents not to “freak out” whenever they are trying to figure out something by “thinking out loud.”

I have always felt that if I knew how my kids thought, I would have a good idea how they would behave when they were on their own.  I’d like to share a practice I’ve used successfully that allowed me a glimpse into my kids’ thinking process.

I created an agreement with each of them that I would welcome their “thinking out loud” about any subject, at any appropriate time, and promised that unless they followed their commentary with a question, I would not comment with anything more than an acknowledgment that I listened to them.  If they concluded with a question, I would confine my comments to the question and not add advice unless it was asked for.

At first, they didn’t trust me to withhold my sage advice or bountiful lectures.  It took a few trial runs and some encouragement before they were convinced of my sincerity.  The result has been quite amazing, for me as well as for them.  I experience their thinking process in action; and in return, they found a safe place to process their thoughts without being judged.  It was a win-win for all of us.  This process can be very valuable in maintaining connection with your children especially during those amazing adolescent years.

I encourage other parents to be aware of this and other methods that call attention to how your kids process information and formulate decisions.  Become a “dream catcher” instead of a “dream stealer.”

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