When was the last time you learned some little tidbit that was fun, interesting or exciting? Remember that feeling of wanting to share the information with someone so they could get excited or amused with you? What happened? Did the person respond in a less than enthused manner or with outright derision at your tidbit? How did that make you feel?
Chances are it didn’t feel so great. Even though you are an adult with somewhat healthy self esteem, a part of you was disappointed, embarrassed or perhaps even angry or upset at the negative reaction. If the response included a personal insult, you probably aren’t inclined to share anything with that person again.
Your children are exposed to a lot of new information every day. Some of it is learned in the educational process. They may pick up new information from new experiences, things they read or social media. Some of that information is true and helpful. Some isn’t true, but believing it doesn’t have a lot of negative consequences. Sometimes, however, the information they learn is wrong and may have consequences that range from minor to deadly if they believe and act on it.
As parents, we are busy. It feels like the list of what we need to do never ends. So when we see a shortcut we can take that will save us some time, we try to take it to give ourselves margin. And what saves more time than cutting off your child who is speaking nonsense as if it were wisdom and tell them immediately their information is wrong, while also supplying the correct information?
It may save you time, but it begins chipping away at your relationship with your children. In their minds, not only did you not really listen to what they had to say, you interrupted them and made them feel stupid. While, I’m hopeful you didn’t actually say that the information or they themselves were stupid, that’s what your kids felt like. And if your tone and body language were dismissive as you corrected them, the damage is even worse. Children who are already leaning towards rebellious behavior will tend to double down on their original statement – even if they know you are probably correct in your assessment of its weaknesses.
You don’t want your children to go around believing incorrect information, much less acting upon it or sharing it with others. So how can you correct the information they have shared without making matters worse? Sometimes the best technique is to give them openings that encourage them to dig a little deeper and discover the error in their statements through a guided thought process.
Start by using one of the following statements or questions.
- Tell me more.
- That’s an interesting perspective. Where did you learn about it?
- Hmmm. Is there any evidence or research to support that statement?
- Why do you think that is true?
- Do you know if the Bible has anything to say about that?
It is crucial that while asking these questions you muster all of the humility and mutual respect you can in your tone and demeanor. Who knows? Although the original statement may be far from true, there may be little bits of information connected to it that will teach you something new.
Be interested in the responses your children give to you. Ask follow up questions. Suggest other places they can research that might have better data or more accurate information. Offer to read the materials they read if you have the time. (Sometimes the original information was correct, but your children misunderstood what they read.) When you sense they feel heard, then and only then should you begin introducing your side of the “debate”.
Humbly (this is key), mention that you have come to a different conclusion based on the information, knowledge and experience you possess. Sum up quickly the bulk of the information you know that led to your differing conclusion. If your children want to continue the conversation, you can share more information or give them things to read or watch that will educate them.
It’s important to remember that many debates are about opinion – not Truth or even truth. Pick your battles. Let your children have their own opinion about things that don’t really matter. Save your corrections for spiritual matters and other crucial information. Most importantly, follow the rules of debate – no name calling or yelling, don’t talk over your child, take turns speaking and yield the floor back to your child regularly, allow your child to amend his or her original statement with dignity, extend comfort and grace when your children realize their statements are incorrect and applaud their willingness to hear what you had to say and consider the evidence with discernment. Don’t let the outrageous statements your kids make undermine your relationship or your ability to parent them. Hopefully, they will give you the same respect and grace when you say something outrageous!