Consider some typical scenarios:
- During a critical point in the movie you are both watching, your son asks you where hurricanes come from. It is tempting to rebuff his question so as not to interrupt the pacing of the film. Can’t he tell you are engrossed in what’s happening on screen?
- Just as you start shifting sentences around to edit that important email, your little one comes into the office and hands you a book to read to her. Why is she up so early on a Saturday? It would be impossible to get her up at this time on a school day.
- You are on your way out the door, and your son waves a permission slip at you, asking for a signature. He knew about his class’s field trip for a week. Why does he have to wait until the due date, as you are late for an appointment no less, before trying to talk to you about it?
These are all opportunities to connect with your children. But why do they have to present themselves at the least convenient times? Part of the reason is the child’s maturity level. The child hasn’t yet developed the capacity to pick appropriate moments, and your response can help guide that.
A two-part response can be used. One part is informational feedback. For example, you can inform the child that their timing can be improved.
- “Hurricanes form in the ocean. I’ll explain how, and then please try to hold any more questions until after the movie, so we don’t miss any important plot points.”
- “I wish you could be ready this early on a weekday. On the weekends, I get up early to catch up on work. Give me two minutes to finish this message and then we can read.”
- “I need you to start showing me permission slips as soon as you get them so I can read them when I’m not in such a hurry.”
Such informational feedback statements communicate your perspective to the child, convey the sense of what you are sacrificing in order to connect in that moment, and provide options for alternate behaviors and outcomes. While you are sharing feedback, it would be helpful to collect some as well, by probing the source of the sudden interest in hurricanes, the reason for rising so early today, or why the long wait to request a signature. This gives you insight into the child’s perspective, and allows the child to feel understood.
Another reason children might present these opportunities to connect at inconvenient times is to seek reassurance. Your children know they matter to you. But do they know how much they matter? These bids for attention, made while your attention is otherwise occupied, are all ways to get a sense for that.
This brings us to the other part of the response: the connection. It is easier to connect when it is costless to do so—when you have the time, when your mind is not preoccupied, and when other priorities have receded into the background. But when connecting requires a sacrifice, it is more meaningful. When you address your child’s concern during the movie, you get to tell him through your actions that he matters more to you than the movie. When you close your laptop to read your child a book, you are telling her that reading to her matters more to you than your work. When you pause to read and sign a piece of paper, you are telling your child that his chance to enjoy the field trip matters more to you than your appointment.
In many cases, the information part of the message can wait until after the connection part. But when needed for context, it is delivered first. In any case, the information part of your message will help your child develop the social skills and tact to measure the circumstances and make bids for attention at opportune times. The other part of your message—the attention they are bidding for—will help them to carry themselves with confidence. It will teach them—through your listening, taking of their perspective, sharing of your perspective, respecting of their feelings, and allowing them a voice—that they, as an individual, matter.
This is an important message to send because it is not done so as an isolated occurrence. You are crafting a message that you will send over and over. You are building a habit for how to respond to a type of situation that will arise again and again. The message that the child matters will be received by the child, reinforced through repetition. The sense that the child matters can then grow with the child’s growth.
The danger of sending the wrong message can’t be underestimated. A child whose bids for attention are routinely rejected becomes conditioned to believe that their thoughts are not valid, their ideas are not good, and their entire self is not worthy. This type of thinking, incubated in the home, may translate into the child’s hand going unraised at school, for fear that their questions are stupid. As the child becomes a tween, it may morph into a dissenting opinion left unspoken as peers make a bad decision. As a teen, it may become a compliant attitude toward an authority figure trying to take advantage of their inexperience. It may manifest in adulthood as a viewpoint that goes unexpressed in a relationship.
Connecting when it is difficult to do so is an opportunity to convey important information that children can internalize as positive self-worth. These are the moments when parenting really happens. These are the moments when children learn that their voice matters, and they can use it to advocate for themselves in the classroom, on the playground, in the workplace, and in their personal relationships. These difficult moments are the ones that truly matter.
How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Why to Answer That Question During the Movie”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/best-times-to-connect.