How to Take Your Child Seriously and Enrich your Relationship Forever!

Blog post by Larissa Dann 7th October 2014 (updated 24 May, 2016)             Image: Shutterstock

Three words: take them seriously - could provide your parenting (and relationship) foundation for life.  Being taken seriously is a fundamental human need – adult and child.  Hugh Mackay, respected Australian social researcher and author, states in his book The Good Life: “the desire to be taken seriously . . . is the most pervasive of all our social desires”.  He says, “We each want our unique role . . . to be recognised.  We each want our voice to be heard" (my emphasis). Children want, and need, to be heard too - as much as adults.  How often do we hear the voice of our child? And how would they feel if we took them seriously?

When I first read about our need to be taken seriously, I was bowled over.  Imagine if I made this my rule for all my communication?  Imagine if this was the foundation for every interaction I had – with my children, and the adults in my life? Imagine if I said to myself, each time I communicated with someone, "I take you seriously".

Then I thought more broadly.  Imagine how communication with children would be transformed if adults simply took them seriously - to recognise that children are people too?

If we took our children seriously, we would:

  • listen to them
  • respect them.
  • appreciate them.
  • value them
  • accept them
  • understand them
  • acknowledge them
  • look behind their behaviour to their need
  • let them know how important they are to us
  • help them feel safe
  • let them know we love them

Taking your child seriously would be the gift of a lifetime – to them, to you, and to your relationship.

Taking Children Seriously

Can you picture what would happen for your child, if you took her or him seriously? 

I am your crying baby:

I am a baby, and I am powerless.  I cannot control any aspect of my environment, I cannot meet my own needs.  I rely on you.  My needs are primal.  I signal to you that I am unhappy. I wave my tiny clenched fists, I screw my eyes tight, I open my mouth, and I begin to cry. Loudly.  I’m trying to connect with you.

My needs may be one or more of numerous human needs: I may be hungry; I may be wet and uncomfortable; perhaps I don’t understand this world into which I’ve been thrust; I may be tired; I may want to be cuddled. I may feel scared because I am alone.

If you see me as a person, and take me seriously, you will help me. I will be tended to.  (I will not be left to ‘cry it out’ - because my needs are serious).

The effect of taking me seriously is that I will have my needs met.  I will feel secure.  I will feel comforted.  I will feel warm and connected. I will know that I am important in my parent’s life.

The synapses in my brain will begin firing and wiring in mostly the right direction, so I will start growing into a secure child and well-adjusted adult.

I am your upset toddler:

I’m stamping my foot.  My eyebrows are drawn, my mouth is turned down. My stomach is grumbling.  My whole body feels red and out of control. All I know is - I want a biscuit because I’m hungry NOW!  I don’t understand why I can’t have a biscuit – why I have to wait for some other time – whenever ‘dinner’ is ready. You have your special red drink in your hand (that only big people can have, and sometimes you call it wine).  I can see you pop a piece of carrot in your mouth.  Why can't I eat too?

I am powerless, and seeking to exert some control over my life.  I don't yet have the brain development, or skill, to regulate these big feelings.  And I get scared when I can't stop my body from getting angry.

If you take me seriously, you might squat down near me and say something like “I can see your stomach hurts for food right now, and it is hard to wait”.  I will feel listened to, and I will begin to understand myself.  I may feel soothed.  I will feel respected and understood – that you know how difficult it is for me not to eat straight away (I haven’t quite learned to manage my emotions).  With your help, I’ll be learning to handle my upset (I may have to wait, or perhaps I may have a cheese stick instead).

I’ll know that I’m in safe hands, and I’ll be learning how to deal with those pesky emotions!

I am your earnest seven year old:

I’ve just finished swimming lessons.  I’m dripping wet, but it’s warm outside the pool.  My older brother is there, and you want to get us dressed.  But I have something very important to tell you about my lesson! 

If you take me seriously, you might stay on the seat, for just a little while, to listen to my story.  You might say “Wow - you sound very pleased with your swimming!”, when I tell you that the teacher asked us to put fins on our feet, and then I swam really fast.  You might say “Really?”  when I excitedly tell you that the we were allowed to race at the end of the lesson.  Then, when I’ve exhausted all my news, you might suggest we get changed.

After this conversation, when I could see you knew how important my news was to me, I felt loved and appreciated.  I felt respected.  I really wanted to be with you, and I felt warm and connected to you.

I am your 14-year-old daughter:

When I come home from school, I’m feeling really down. Everyone is at work.  I wait until you get home, and you’re making dinner.  I know that you'll be in the kitchen, so I perch myself on the stool and start to talk.  I feel cut up about my best friend.  She’s decided to be friends with someone else, and I am hurt and lonely.

I know you take me seriously when you stop for a bit to listen.  Even though I know what ‘active listening’ is, I appreciate the fact that you are really listening to me. You don't say things that my friends’ parents say (like ‘build a bridge and get over it’, or 'there are other fish in the sea').  I know you take me seriously when you explain that you have to keep getting dinner ready.  You invite me to either stay and talk while you work, or make an appointment for later in the evening, when you can devote yourself to me.

I feel relieved, understood, and cared for.  I understand myself a bit better.  I feel close to you, and want to be with you, and help you when you need help. I don’t want to rebel, fight, or argue with you. 

What happens when we don’t take our children seriously?

The desire to be taken seriously can be seen as a fundamental human need.  When that is thwarted, ignored or not understood, then what is a child to do? They may become frustrated, angry, rebel against authority.  They may become quiet, withdrawn.  They may lose their own sense of self-worth and self-respect (after all, if their parents don’t respect them by taking them seriously, then how can they develop their own sense of respect?).

How To Take Your Child Seriously

Communicating respectfully with your child will help them know you are taking them seriously.  Genuinely listen to understand. Be respectfully assertive, avoiding blameful 'you messages', and instead using I-Messages.  Ask for their help to resolve conflict, so they know you trust and value their opinion.  Attend to them (put down our devices!).  Spend time with them.

The Result.

Taking your child seriously is a way of encapsulating many core human needs. Your child will feel heard, understood, respected, cared for, important to someone else, and loved.  And as a result, that child will want to be with you, to love you, to respect you, to care for you – to take you seriously.

© Larissa Dann. 2014, 2016.  All rights reserved

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