How allowing our kids to express themselves can improve their mental wellness as adults

May 23, 2019

By: Dr. Nicole Washington
board-certified psychiatrist

“Stay out of grown folks’ business”
“Speak when spoken to”
“You’re too young to have an opinion”

I am sure that many of you have either heard these words when you were a kid or have spoken them to your own children. Oftentimes in the Black community we don’t allow our children to have opinions or to engage in any kind of conversation that is seen as adult. While there are certain topics our kids shouldn’t be a part of, there are long term benefits of letting our children in on some of these crucial conversations:

Teaching self-advocacy – There is an art and sometimes a fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Allowing a child to engage in advocating for themselves at a young age can help them learn how to do so without tipping over into aggression.

This is especially helpful when advocating for themselves with someone who is in a position of authority over them. For some, learning this skill can help them get more comfortable speaking up especially if the child is shy.

Building confidence – Allowing your child to be involved in discussions will help them feel more confident in themselves and their ability to add value to relationships and situations. Give them kudos when they make a good suggestion or point out an important point.

Of course, depending upon the age and the conversation, your child may make suggestions that aren’t feasible. It is important that in those cases you don’t put them down or use words like “crazy” or “stupid” that would serve to break down their confidence instead of building it up.

Decisiveness – Having your kids help with certain decisions can give them the ability to make firm decisions rooted in good old common sense. By allowing them to be a part of these conversations and see your decision-making process, it teaches them how to make well-informed decisions, taking into consideration the potential positives and negatives that may come as a result.

Learning responsibility – When your children make some decisions on their own, with your oversight of course, they will not always make the right decision and that is okay. Nobody makes the right decision all the time. But thriving individuals can take responsibility for those moments and learn from any mistakes along the way.

Learn to fail – Since failures are inevitable in life, it makes sense to allow our kids the opportunity to fail with our support so that they will know how to fail when we aren’t around. When we make every decision possible for our kids and then expect them to magically know how to be an adult at 18, we are doing them, and us, a huge disservice. Teaching them early on the coping skills required to fail successfully can save them a lot of heartache as they age.

As an adult psychiatrist, I work with people every day who suffer from depression and anxiety, a lot of which stems from a poor sense of who they are, low self-esteem, poor decision making, and poor coping skills. In working with them, it is evident that they never learned the skills described here and it has affected them well into adulthood.

As a parent, we want our children to be successful adults and to have an easier path than we did. Sometimes for that to occur, we have to step outside of what we think we know as fact and explore other techniques.