Trust, respect, and attention: How not to diminish your child’s true self

Published by Lori Pickert on June 5, 2014 at 10:07 AM

Recently I was contacted by a mother who told me she was upset and frustrated because she was trying to introduce PBH to her sons and they were resisting.

She had been trying to share her own work with them in an attempt to make her own learning visible and start building a family culture of making and sharing.

And what happened?

“They act like my work is boring and not important. They don’t want to listen. They roll their eyes and change the subject.”

I asked her what her sons’ interests were — and things got very quiet.

“Well… I’m not sure. They used to be really into video games. But now… I don’t know.”

What happened with their interest in video games?

“Well… I didn’t like it. I thought they were spending too much time on the computer. The games seemed stupid. I told them they were wasting their time…”

Her voice trailed away.

When her sons had shared their authentic interest, she had reacted by

- saying it was boring and unimportant,

- not listening,

- rolling her eyes, and changing the subject.

Now her sons were reacting to her interests in the exact same way.

When we share our true interests, we are sharing part of ourselves. When we get back disdain and criticism — or when we’re simply ignored — then we learn to hide that part of ourselves. Maybe we drop that interest — or maybe we just stop talking about it with that person.

We might stop sharing other interests with that person because we want to avoid that negative reaction. We might even stop sharing our interests with anyone. Why open yourself up to ridicule?

It’s easier to just do what everyone else is doing — that way, no one will call you a dork or make fun of you. No one will look down on you. Keep your real interests to yourself — or just stop having interests altogether. They’re probably stupid anyway and it’s not like anything’s going to come of them.

Whatever you do, don’t reveal your true self to someone who didn’t like that little bit you already showed them.

Our family is our first community. Our first friends. Our first colleagues. Our first audience. Our first mentors.

We learn our first lessons there, and we carry them forward when we meet and interact with the larger world.

If we learn at home that our interests are no good and not worth having, it’s very hard to overcome that lesson in the larger community where we’re even more nervous about fitting in.

If we hear “what you care about is stupid and worthless,” it’s easy to convert that to “you’re stupid and worthless.”

It’s never too late to reverse this. It’s never too late to say, “I was wrong.” It’s never too late to say, “Tell me about what you care about. I really want to know. Because I am interested in you.”

It’s never to late to listen, to support, to invest in your child’s authentic interests.

The child who is listened to will listen.

The child who is supported will support.

The child who is mentored will mentor.

The child who is believed in will believe in himself — and you.

If you give trust, respect, and attention, that is what you will receive in return.

It’s not about whether you like video games or not. It’s about whether you want your child to know what HE likes. It’s about whether you want him to trust his own feelings. It’s about whether you want him to be capable of developing his unique talents and gifts. It’s about whether you want him to tap into his deepest motivation and be willing to challenge himself.

When you support his ability to know what he likes, you’re putting him on a path of self-knowledge and meaningful work.

Diminish what he loves and you diminish him.


See also More thoughts on dismissing children’s interests and ideas

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Comment by Lori Pickert on June 5, 2014 at 10:43 AM

it should go without saying but just in case it doesn’t, i ALWAYS get permission before sharing stories on the blog. and i change small details to mask identity as well.

THANK YOU to everyone who allows their stories to be shared so others can learn from their experiences! <3

Comment by Katie | The Sur... on June 5, 2014 at 01:38 PM

Thank you so much! I needed to hear this today :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 5, 2014 at 02:24 PM

thank YOU! :)

Comment by mentine on June 5, 2014 at 10:07 PM

Beutifull story about the power of attention. I definitely had this with princess dresses or dresses in general!

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 6, 2014 at 07:41 AM

it’s been a common story in the forum — thinking you can reject one interest and then your children will enthusiastically share another (that you may prefer). it doesn’t tend to work that way!

Comment by amy21 on June 6, 2014 at 07:13 AM

This is common sense--treat other people (even children! why is that so revolutionary?!) the way you want to be treated. It's sad that it's not necessarily common between parents and children.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 6, 2014 at 07:40 AM

common sense is not common action. — shawn achor

Comment by sarah pj on June 6, 2014 at 10:26 AM

As you know, I am wholeheartedly in agreement with this. But, I have a question. What if the interest is in something specific that is either not developmentally appropriate or that is in opposition to your family's values and belief system? My 11 year old was introduced to a web comic that is WAY too mature for her - for her age in general, and for her specifically - and she is obsessed with it. I know that my direct opposition will just send her sneaking off that way, so that won't work. But, I have major concern about it and everything that it represents (in terms of it being not healthy for her, w/o going into details), and I genuinely don't want it in my home. She sees this as me rejecting and not understanding *her*. So what do I do? How do I redirect the interest to web comics, or comics in general, rather than it being about this particular thing that isn't healthy for her?

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 6, 2014 at 10:45 AM

this is a really good question.

i think the best approach is honesty and confronting it directly. “this is how we feel; we want what’s best for you,” etc. and then yes, definitely, saying which part of that interest you are willing to support — web comics or comics or manga or etc. — and backing that up with real attention and concrete offers.

if it’s an age/maturity issue, then i would say “we aren’t comfortable with you reading/watching/etc. this until you are [this age].”

if it’s a values issue, then i would say “we cannot support or allow this as a family because [insert reason(s)].”

when children are very young, you can often skirt an iffy interest by supporting another — children tend to have more than one. but when they’re older, they are usually completely onto your attempts to steer them away and *they* will confront *you* or they might just stew and conjure up a lot of invented reasons for why you’re acting the way you are.

deep interests tend to be more than just a single book, a single idea — you should be able to find a way to support them even if you nix a particular title as too old/inappropriate/etc.

but with older kids (as i’m sure you’re experiencing right now!), the issue often swiftly moves from “something i’m interested in” to wrestling with themes of autonomy, growing up, parent-child struggles, and etc.

“i love you. i want to support your interest in X. i cannot allow Z and this is why.” that is the conversation i would try to have.

Comment by sarah pj on June 6, 2014 at 10:51 AM

That's the conversation we've had, and now it's coming down to a mutual respect issue. This child is making me earn my parenting stripes the hard way.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 6, 2014 at 11:19 AM


Comment by dawn on June 6, 2014 at 10:52 AM

would you feel comfortable having a heart-to-heart talk with her? my dd is also 11 and is coming across things that i question or really don't care for. here's the thing - when i learn about such things, i go to her and let her know that i don't approve and explain why. *really* why. my honest concerns, my fears, my objections - all in a calm, matter-of-fact way. i ask her why she finds the particular thing intriguing. more often than not, i find that her interest is more on the scale of an intense but quickly passing whimsy than a serious obsession and i can relax a little. when i'm able to have that discussion and really hear what she's telling me (which can be extraordinarily difficult to do when i have very strong feelings about it), i learn a little more about her and what appeals to her and why. when she really hears my concerns and can address them beyond a flippant "don't worry, mom!" i feel like she's ready to follow my guidance towards some middle ground.

it's not a one-discussion thing, either. it's not typically a surprise to her what i approve of or don't, because we talk a lot about what every member of the family is interested in and how that changes over time and with growth. she knows that she can go to her dad or trusted adults or close friends about some topics that she knows make me uncomfortable. and she knows that when i put my foot down very hard, which is infrequent, i have a very good reason.

Comment by sarah pj on June 6, 2014 at 11:01 AM

I have. More than once, and from multiple angles. She and her therapist have discussed it. And now it's a trust issue and it's making so many other things difficult. I think she has chosen this particular thing as "I define myself by my interest in this" and chooses friends, etc. based on it, so when I reject it, I am rejecting *her*, no matter how openly, honestly, or sensitively I phrase it. I'm seriously at a loss. So when this came up as a very timely post, it hit home.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 6, 2014 at 11:20 AM

just in relation to this post, i think when we take issue with something our kids like, we have to go that extra mile to connect with them all *around* that issue. but i know you’re doing that, sarah, to the best of your ability! xoxoxo

Comment by dawn on June 6, 2014 at 01:23 PM

so difficult. i'm sorry :(

Comment by amahla on June 22, 2014 at 10:07 AM

I think it's hard to support an interest when the child has picked it specifically in order to differentiate. She probably knew that you weren't likely to approve and she's hanging onto to her right to like it even if you don't so she can have a sense of self away from you.

I also think about how a part of leaving childhood is taking risks and exploring beyond the safe play areas that our parents have defined for us. How do we keep them safe while they do this? It is some tough territory....I would think that anything we can do to help them develop high self esteem (so accepting being damaged is not considered normal or ok) and the ability to feel the impact of things on various parts of themselves and others would help. And maybe offering to help them fix and repair when things go awry?

I wonder if you could find a way to think about this as a different type of learning (emotional/internal vs about a topic) and ask how you can support that?
Like journal about other ways she is also doing it and how you might cooperate and help further this "project" (taking risks, exploring what's dangerous or taboo, creating boundaries around her sense of self or whatever...)

Comment by kristenj on June 7, 2014 at 10:29 AM

Thank you Lori for articulating the principles I aspire to live by. Mindful self reflection of my own fear and crisis of the imagination has prevented some yet, not all regrettable interactions. This is about big picture commitments - moment by moment and long lasting choices that stimulate self limiting beliefs in children.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 7, 2014 at 12:12 PM

thank YOU <3

Comment by Ashley on June 13, 2014 at 10:46 PM

This one really hit close to home. I've spent most of my life hiding my interests because my family/friends found them "boring" (mythology) or I wasn't good enough (singing/music in general). This has made me closed off, and I've had a harder time opening up to people because of this stuff. Thank you for articulating this problem so well.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 14, 2014 at 07:12 AM

i hope you have found people you can share your interest with!

Comment by Jenny on February 1, 2015 at 12:22 AM

Hi Lori
I have recently rediscovered your website after several years wandering through the wilderness of www! I have your book and love it... it is definitely the way I would have loved to be schooled! However, I have found it quite challenging to implement with my 3 high-functioning ASD sons (aged 13,11,9). And I was just hoping you (or someone reading) might have some advice and insight to offer? The main issues I am having trouble with are:
My boys tend to be quite rigid and inflexible.
They tend to be very obsessive about an interest but in a very narrow/limited way.
They are generally unmotivated to try anything new.
They are very resistant to having anything they enjoy doing constrained by the confines of "school work" or "learning".
They are very rigid and stuck in their perceptions/definitions of what "learning" is.
Getting them to "chat" or discuss anything is like trying to draw blood from a stone.
It seemed much easier when they were younger to build on their interests because they were open to things being a little bit broader in approach/ obsession with marine mammals
How do you help kids who don't want to be told what to do/learn about...but aren't self-starters and seem lethargic about taking ownership of their own learning??
I really wish PBH could work for us! Or am I expecting too much??

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 2, 2015 at 01:13 PM

hi jenny,

if you’re on facebook, i would float this question to the PBH group and see if anyone with similar kids has experiences to share! homeschooling

my thoughts…

They are very resistant to having anything they enjoy doing constrained by the confines of "school work" or "learning". 

this shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you focus on helping them do whatever it is they want to do.

what would you say sets off that “school learning” red flag for them?

My boys tend to be quite rigid and inflexible.

They are generally unmotivated to try anything new.

you can feed into a love of structure by setting a definite project time — see this post: — and then making project time itself structured (e.g., meeting, work time, meeting sandwich — see this post for more: — ritualize it!).

another example: you can go to the library at the same time each week and before you go, read off their list of current interests and make a list of things they want to look for at the library.

They tend to be very obsessive about an interest but in a very narrow/limited way.

the key here, i think, is to drill deeply into what they’re already doing and see if you can slowly expand on that.

so, for example, if they are very, very, very interested in building 3D models out of popsicle sticks and reject any other type of building (clay, etc.), you look at ways to slightly expand upon what they’re already doing — offering materials that work with that method, say.

let’s say they ONLY want to read about an interest (or ONLY want to watch videos on youtube!); again, you can look for ways to take tiny steps in a new direction — like moving from books to magazines, or moving from youtube videos to netflix full documentaries.

often, the way to make something seem less “new” and different is to point out all the ways in which it’s similar to what they’re already doing. it also can help to have someone *else* suggest it — for example, if a mentor or favored friend/family member or hero likes something or suggests something, they might be willing to try it.

They are very rigid and stuck in their perceptions/definitions of what "learning" is.

my general advice here is to simply start doing things they already want to do and only call it “learning” after they’ve already enjoyed it.

rather than suggesting that you could do an educational activity related to something they like (yuck!), go to the air and flight museum and then later on say “wow, you learned a lot of new things about jets at the museum.”

start using learning vocabulary to describe things you are doing for fun and not just things you do for school. this means you as well — talk about what you learned while fixing the refrigerator or building a new bookshelf and so on. :)

Getting them to "chat" or discuss anything is like trying to draw blood from a stone.

you might be able to get them interested in writing a blog, making a powerpoint, or sharing what they know in some other way than through chatting. they might be interested in, say, setting up a very detailed demonstration to show a family member or creating a museum-like display with labels to show friends (or share at the library).

How do you help kids who don't want to be told what to do/learn about...but aren't self-starters and seem lethargic about taking ownership of their own learning?

well, that’s kind of what pbh is all about. :) start where they are, help them do the things they already want to do, and so on.

i don’t think you’re asking too much! i do think you will need to make it your mission to really get to know your boys and how they learn best, communicate best, and so on. but as long as they have an interest, you have something to work with.

let me know how it’s going!

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