In my many years of nanny experience, I saw brothers and sisters answering questions for each other. It wasn’t limited to siblings however, I saw parents doing it as well, answering questions on behalf of their children.
It might seem harmless to answer a question for someone else, but it really isn’t. We actually steal from that person in doing so. If this is repeatedly done, the child may unconsciously identify with the belief that they don’t have a voice or aren’t worthy of one, or may simply believe they are incapable of expressing themselves.
A child needs a safe space in order to be willing to work at saying what they wish to say. When I say safe space, what I mean is a certain openness, a willingness to wait and listen to what the child has to say, no matter what answer is being given. If we are unable to give our full attention to them in the moment when they are working to answer a question, they won’t feel safe to be honest and open.
In one of my earlier blogs, I spoke of the importance of working with your child’s attention as early as possible in life. I used examples of following through when you ask a child to do something like brush their teeth. Now let’s use that same idea when you ask your child a question.
Here’s an example. (Mom) “Charlie, did you remember to close the gate when you put your bike away?” (Charlie) “There was a spider web by the gate.” (Mom) “Charlie, the question I asked you was “Did you remember to close the gate when you put your bike away?” (Charlie) “The handle on the gate was hot.” (Mom) “Charlie, do you remember the question I asked you?” (Charlie) “Yes. Yes, I closed the gate.” (Mom) “Thank you Charlie.”
By continually agreeing to follow through in helping your child answer a question that was asked of them, the child eventually sees how something in them diverts their attention and takes them away from the question at hand. It is a beautiful thing to see the day your child corrects themselves, where they are taken away on a tangent of thought, but then catch it and simply stop and answer the question. That may seem like a little thing, but it’s not a little thing at all. Remember that.
All of that being said, it is vital that anyone who is asked a question is the one who should answer it. If you see someone else, whether a friend or someone in the household starting to answer a question for another, a parent should properly instruct the child to which the question was asked to answer it because it was addressed to them.
This really helps when you have a child that is on the shy side. It helps them open up when given the safe space to do so.
My two children are very opposite in nature. Growing up, one was very outspoken, the other on the shy side. The outspoken one consistently answered questions that were directed at the other one. At that time, I did not understand the harm that was being done in allowing her to do that.
In allowing that to take place, my daughter identified with a certain unworthiness about herself, a certain belief that she had no value to offer.
Thank goodness, harm is not irreparable. We can actually change the past by dying to that part of us now that wants to speak for others. The moment the desire to do so comes up in us, we can allow it to be seen for what it is – a wrong part of us that believes it knows what is always right in each and every moment.
There is a part of all of us that doesn’t like the idea of struggling. That same part feels uncomfortable when it is around others that are having a difficult time doing something. For example, when we are in the presence of a person who is struggling to say something, there is a strong tendency for us to speak from that uncomfortable part by answering for them, instead of dying to that uncomfortable nature that arose in us in that moment.
Those uncomfortable moments are laden with gold because they are hidden opportunities to be made new by dying to the old. If we give into that pressure and instead speak for that other person, we continue to feed the old world in us that can’t change.
Exercise for the week: Catch yourself or one of your children trying to answer a question for another. Step in gently and restate that the question was directed at “Jane” and you would like “Jane” to answer it.
Image courtesy of: Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash