Recognize Red Flags by Asking Your Kids the Right Questions

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A parent's worst nightmare is finding out their child has been harmed in any way. This goes for scraped knees, name calling from other kids, maybe getting a bad grade or a bad cold. You would do anything to keep your child out of danger. If you could follow them around all day like a secret ninja, you would. But that's not realistic, and not very healthy for either of you. When you send your kid to school, over to a friend's house, off to daycare or wherever, you trust that the adult there will make good decisions and treat your child the way you would. When you pick them up, you talk to your kid about how they acted, if they were polite and so forth to make sure they'll be invited back (and there aren't any phone calls you need to make to apologize). But are you asking the right questions? Are you getting all of the information you need?

mom talking to kids

Earlier this year, a narrative from an honest mother was shared on the Lauren's Kids site: How Good Parents Miss Child Sexual Abuse and 5 Questions to Change That. You never want you child to be "that kid" with the bad attitude or the one parents dread at birthday parties. You deliberately ask your child questions based on that: Were you good today? Did you listen well? Did you have any timeouts? How did you do with sharing? The mother who wrote about her revelation wants you to ask these question, too, and not just for clues to sexual abuse, but to any source of unhappiness:

  • How did you spend your time?  Your child should be able to list games, activities, specific experiences they had.
  • What was your favorite part of the party? You're looking for a positive memory; your child should be riding high on excitement from this.
  • What was the least favorite part? Fair enough. You asked for a "high" now ask for a "low." Your child may not know if something is normal or not, but they can tell you if they didn't like it.
  • Did you feel safe?  This is huge and self-explanatory.
  • Was there anything else that you wanted to share? Asking open-ended questions like this and waiting for an answer can create a platform for your child to spill any information you might not have specifically asked. (via Lauren's Kids)

>> Read more: 16 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

Be a good listener: This can be tough. As a parent, you have a million things running through your mind on a daily basis. It's important to take everything your kids says with appropriate weight. Most of it might seem trivial and surface level to you, but you need to remember that your child's world is much smaller than yours. They are discovering and learning about things for the first time, things that you've probably known for decades. Your child's conversation with you should be met with eye contact, active listening (questions), analyzation of context and body language.

  • Eye contact — when you're face to face with your child, you are able to give them your full attention. Sometimes this isn't possible, like when you're in the car. If this is the case, use your ears more, turn off the radio and roll up the windows. Click here to read how you can make time for each kid in a big family.
  • Active listening — this is a basic interpersonal communications skill that involves you listening to your kiddo, then repeating something they said in a question form. For example, your child mentions they played with paint today, so you ask them what they used with the paint or which color was the best, and so forth. Get more in-depth details here.
  • Analyzation of context — take note of where you are and who is around you. Your child might not be disclosing everything because you're standing right in front of the teacher or because it's hot out and your kid is miserable. Take the environmental factors into consideration and be prepared to revisit these questions in private.
  • Body language — recognize your child's posture, any presence of tension or shyness, facial expressions and so forth as they talk to you. Your child probably hasn't developed a poker face of sorts, so relying on their physical cues can lead you to a wealth of information. Psychology Today can help you break it down.

>> Read more: Family Table Discussion: Talk About Moving or Talk About Divorce

Having open communication with your child can be a lifesaver. You can help develop this by practicing every day. Be present, ask questions, amuse them by indulging in their interests and so forth. You don't always need to offer help or have an answer. A simple conversation is enough to build your relationship one step forward. Aha Parenting! has much more to say on this.