Parenting 101: Listening
Why is it so hard to listen to what our kids are telling us? Why is that we want to tell them what to do, how to do it, and what not to do? It just seems so clear to us in the moment. Stop yelling! Stop bothering your little sister! Clean up your mess! Don’t worry about what your friend did! You’re so messy! You’re always tracking mud into the kitchen! We have a long list of “to do’s” and an even longer list of “don’t do’s”.
But all too often, these prescriptions fall on deaf ears. Our kids just don’t get it. How come?
I am always drawn back to the work of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They are the authors of—How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk. They have managed to simplify their approach even further and recently re-published a book—How to be the parent you always wanted to be. I love that title. It says everything we hope for as a mom or dad. Their slant is simple, but unfortunately very hard to do. In the difficult moments, everything we learn flies out the window.
About feelings According to Faber and Mazlish, kids want us to know what they feel. They want us to acknowledge their feelings. They get frustrated (and act it out) when we dismiss their experience. “My teddy bear’s ear fell off!” cries Joey. Dad replies—“Don’t worry about it; I’ll buy you another bear.” Joey starts to cry. “Mommy my picture is awful!” says Sarah. “Gee, I think it’s pretty,” says Mom. Sarah pounds the table and cries.
Instead, just listen, don’t give any advice, just say “hmm” or “oh”, acknowledge and name their emotion, “Hmm. That must be frustrating, annoying, or make you mad!” Give it a name. It also helps to offer a solution in a fantasy (young children aren’t always so sure what is real and what is not)—“I bet you wish you could wave your magic wand and your bear’s ear would reappear!”
When Billy is stamping his muddy feet on the newly waxed kitchen floor it sure is hard to acknowledge that he must be really mad that it’s time to come in for dinner! But that simple acknowledgement, takes the steam out of his engine, while you remind him that the floor (and Mom!) doesn’t like mud!
I know it seems foolish, but give it a try, you will be surprised.
Don’t try to solve your kid’s problems This runs so counter to our first reaction to Mary’s tears. “No one wants to play with me during recess,” she sobs. “Gee that must feel awful,” says Mom. “Let’s make a list of some things you might try,” Mom replies, as she pulls out a piece of paper. Mary starts to list some ideas—she could bring a ball, read in the library, find her best friend, or draw. “So which one do you think you will try?” says Mom. Mary decides to bring her own ball tomorrow and see if she can’t get some other kids to play with her. She runs off, with a smile on her face.
It just doesn’t make sense, does it? Shouldn’t I try to fix it? Childhood is a relatively short period in a person’s life. Adult life constitutes the majority of our lives. And what do we have to do, every day, when we’re an adult? We have to solve problems, find solutions, and make choices. It’s never too early to help kids learn how to solve their own problems. When a 10 year old makes a list of possible solutions to her problem, she feels competent and capable. When her Mom tells her what to do, she may find a solution, but she doesn’t develop any problem solving skills.
Check out Faber’s and Mazlish’s books. You won’t be disappointed.
What do you think?