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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin

Stop Interviewing Your Child for Pain

Have you heard of interviewing for pain?

As parents, we can make sure we intentionally avoid interviewing our children for pain.

The term was invented by Michael J. Thompson, to describe what happens when a parent keeps negative situations alive even after their child has moved on or solved the problem.

Here's an example. Your five year old son comes home from school one day and shares that another student, named Alex, pushed him at recess. You sit with you son and talk about it. You listen. You validate his feelings. But most importantly you talk about what to do if it happens again; how to stick up for himself and advocate for his needs. Maybe you tell your son to push him back, maybe you tell him to walk away and make another choice, maybe you tell him to tell a teacher, or maybe you tell him to look that little stinker in the eye and tell him to keep his hands to himself. Whichever response feels right to you as the parent you do, so that you build the skills your son needs to feel confident and prepared in case that situation happens again.

That's all great...the problem, the "interviewing for pain" happens when the next day, after school, when you first see your son, the first thing you ask him is "Did Alex push you again today?", and the day after that it's "Was Alex mean to you at recess?". By doing this, by wording your questions like this, you are unknowingly reinforcing your child to focus on negativity, to not feel good about moving on from a conflict, and to began to recognize that I can get A LOT of attention from my parents when I tell them all the bad things that happened at school, which will actually reinforce your child focusing on the negative in the most attention grabbing manner. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative, so it's an easy trap to fall into.

Instead of asking a negatively focused question, which almost invites your child to find something negative to share with you, try asking a more general, open-ended question. You could simply said "How was your day?", "Who was a good friend today?" or "Tell me something fun you did at school!". Trust me, if Alex pushed your son again, he's going to tell you, but by not interviewing your son for pain, you are teaching him that it's ok to move on from a conflict, we have the ability to manage and overcome challenges, and it's healthy to try and focus on the positive when we can!

When we intentionally work to help our children learn to focus on what IS working, and to see the positives in life, we are helping to positively impact their brains! By learning to focus on the positive, we increase the neurotransmitters in our brain, which release happy chemicals such as dopamine. When our children can experience these natural and organic releases of dopamine, it creates higher levels of energy, alertness and self-efficacy. By avoiding interviewing for pain, and authentically teaching our children to focus on the good stuff going on, we are increasing their quality of life and overall happiness.

Interviewing for pain continues to rehash the past, focus on the negative and reinforce getting attention by only sharing the bad stuff....nothing good comes from it. Allow your child a chance to move on from conflict when possible, focus on the good stuff, and get your attention in positive ways, but be there for them to listen and validate when they do bring up the tough stuff on their own.

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