As our children become more independent, it is easy to stop paying close attention to them—but then we can miss their cues about what they need. It is important for children to develop a sense of independence, and at the same time it is still important for parents to continue to tune in to what their children are feeling and needing. Sometimes paying attention to your children’s needs will require going below the surface of what they are doing or saying.

If your child does something or says something annoying, irritating, or troubling, try to translate their deed or words. Does he need help getting something done? Is she sleepy? Hungry? Does he need a break from a friend or sibling? Does she need some outdoor play? Does he need your attention? As you reflect on what your child’s real message might be, consider closeness and isolation as well as confidence and powerlessness.

One example of an annoying expression might be the often heard, “This homework is stupid!” Quite possibly your child is simply feeling frustrated because he or she does not understand how to do the homework. However, whether it is reading, spelling, or math, it may be that your child is really saying, “Will you please help me?” When you reflect on what he or she might really need and is trying to express, your response can be helpful and supportive: “I’d be happy to help you with your spelling words.”

Tuning in does not mean asking children about every little aspect of their day. As a parent, if you are open to listening to what is really said as well as to what is not said, you’ll find that children are communicating in one way or another all the time.

More to consider: With intention . . .

When children are chattering on about nothing or repeating something they have already said, keep listening rather than cutting them off. It is important to be patient and listen to what they want to tell you in their own way. We can’t expect them to tell us only what we want to hear, and it is important for children to know that we will listen without interrupting or gruffly putting an end to their stories and expressions.