With a sigh, I picked up yet another “Getting to Know Your Child” questionnaire, this time from one of my children’s music teachers.
During the first weeks of elementary school for my three kids, I’d already filled out forms from their homeroom teachers. There were also a few forms at my middle schooler’s back to school night. Now I had another sheaf from music and advanced academics teachers.
I wrote the child’s name at the top and felt my crankiness rise to the surface at the endless forms asking me what makes my child tick. With each question, I struggled not to be resentful and to instead thoughtfully fill out the form with positive responses, not the somewhat snarky ones floating around in my head.
What do you see as your child’s greatest strengths? Hmmm, maybe making silly faces and talking in a squeaky voice?
What do you hope your child will learn in school this year? Whatever knowledge is needed to pass the second grade.
What are your fears/concerns about your child in school this year? If I writenone, does that make me an unconcerned parent?
How does your child learn? By being taught.
What motivates your child? Candy. I think all of my children could be motivated to learn anything if candy was the reward.
Of course, I only thought the above responses, but for some questions, I had no answers — and that made me wonder if perhaps I was missing something important as a mom. Did I need to know my kids on a much deeper level? Did the kids even have a deeper level? Why are teachers, coaches and others asking these types of questions of parents today? I’m pretty sure none of my teachers wanted to know what motivated me. Is this deep delving into the inner lives of our kids good, or are we simply over-thinking this thing called childhood?
When I was a kid, we were rarely asked why we did this or that, or what we thought or felt about anything. This is not to knock our parents, who loved us dearly but felt that they didn’t need to have many heart-to-heart discussions with a 7-year-old.
Then parenting began to change. “In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a greater understanding in academia about the importance of self-esteem and the notion of attachment parenting,” said Dr. Ben Michaelis, clinical psychologist and author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. “Two or three decades ago, there was more of a focus on what kids were doing rather than what kids were feeling.”
As the recent animated film Inside Out showed us, a lot goes on behind the scenes of a child’s mind (and an adult’s for that matter). The movie encapsulated our fascination with the feelings and emotions of ourselves and our children, and provided another glimpse of what we have discovered about the human brain.
“With the advances of science and technology, we are better able to understand human behavior and emotion,” said Dr. Tara Zuckerman, a psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “With this knowledge comes the expectation that parents have access and the ability to understand their child’s psychological and behavioral processes.”
With more knowledge about the brain and its development in children, educators from all areas are asking a lot more questions of parents (and older students) about learning and emotions. “If parents know what makes their children ‘tick’ and have a deeper knowledge of their interests or skill sets, then they are seen as an asset to anyone instructing or serving their child,” Zuckerman said.
This grasp of a child’s inner life does more than service a child’s academic career. “By understanding the child’s thought process or behavior by way of their parent, we can better serve and provide for them,” Zuckerman said. “We’ll know what to expect, how to soothe, how to motivate, what inspires them, but most importantly what they value.”
Hmmm, put that way, the questionnaires start to make more sense.
But parents and educators shouldn’t place too much emphasis on what goes on inside a child’s mind. “Sometimes, there’s an over-focus on the inner life of the child, and even a pathologizing of thoughts or feelings that are totally healthy,” cautioned Michaelis. “It’s all a balance.”
For parents like me who might not feel we have that type of connection with our child, Michaelis reminded us there’s more than one way to form a strong bond with your son or daughter. “For kids or parents not particularly verbally oriented, this way of approaching their children might not be optimal. Sometimes just getting to know your child through activities is the best approach,” he said.
In two-parent households, this might be something your spouse has more insights about than you. For our household, I’ve started handing off the “Getting to Know You” questionnaires to my husband, as he seems to have a better grasp of how to answer the questions. Together, we can regularly check in with our kids on different levels, which I think is all any parent can do.
This article was originally published on The Washington Post