When parents have conversations with their children, it is important for them to reflect on what may be going on in the minds of those involved. Conversations that include attention to mental processes respect each person’s subjective reality. If mental processes are left out of the conversation and only behaviors are addressed, children miss an opportunity to learn about themselves. They lose a chance to learn about the mental processes that motivate their behaviors.

For example, if your child is acting in a disagreeable manner after school, you might think about what may be going on mentally and emotionally and find a way to connect the mental and emotional possibilities with the behaviors. What went on at school today? Was there a test that may have caused distress or perhaps an audition for a musical group? Instead of simply reprimanding your child for his or her unpleasant behavior, wonder and talk about how he or she is feeling and what might be the cause of the irritable mood. You might ask “Did you have a rough day at school today?” or “Would you like to talk about your day?” or “It looks like maybe something frustrating or disappointing happened at school today?”

Another way to help your child develop an understanding of self is through storytelling. You can be the narrator of your child’s day so that he or she can remember and integrate all the events of his or her life. When the day’s experiences are revisited with a person who is warm, caring, and nonjudgmental, it is easier to include all the moments of the day, both the difficult and enjoyable. Invite your child to participate in the story with his or her own memories and ideas as well as questions. You can start with something like “You had a full day today. After breakfast, we felt a little rushed getting to school.” Then you can fill in the events of the day and the emotional aspects and thoughts that may connect. For example, “After school, your friend came over. I heard you both laughing and having such a good time. I wonder if you think you’d like to do that again?”

Even when you read a story to your child, you can discuss what the characters might be thinking and feeling. By investigating the thinking and feeling behind the behaviors and actions, a new level of meaning develops along with a new dimension for how your child will come to understand his or her own experiences.

Consider mental processes when you have conversations with your children. Doing so will have an important and positive influence on the long-term development of your child’s character.