This week I am excited to share with you the following blog post from one of my fellow Positive Discipline Educators, Krishna Kabra from Squeeze My Soul. I hope you enjoy it!
I was the best parent before I had kids. I had very clear ideas about what one needed to do to raise beautifully natured, smart, articulate, cultured beacons of society. Ask me a question about anything parenting, I had the answer. I was my own self ordained expert. Parents of those hideously rambunctious, ill mannered spawn you see in restaurants clearly had NO idea what they were doing. My kids would NEVER behave like that (let alone dress like that – what is it with those hideous superhero T-shirts…..Ewww). And then I had two of my own. And yes, of course my son prides himself on his colorful collection of Marvel ensembles. He adorns proudly, I abhor quietly.
Parenting can be humbling like that; the rudest of all awakenings. The tumultuous journey where every morning you tell yourself ‘It’s going to be different today’, ‘I’m going to learn to take a deep breath’ and in hours, minutes even, what surrounds you are variations of ‘It’s so not fair’, ‘I don’t want to eat this, I want what he has’, ‘But that was mine first’. You forget to breathe let alone honor the commitment you made to it all being ‘different’. The goal of successful parenting quickly wanes to survival parenting.
Over the years, one of the most powerful tactics I’ve learnt to bearing the bedlam when it breaks is to just LISTEN. When it all gets too much…and all you can hear is crying, whining, yelling….not say anything, not react at all but to simply listen is a powerful thing.
I posted to my Squeeze My Soul Facebook page for the first time this week and it’s no surprise the first quote that came to me was about the power of silence. As parents we intrinsically feel the need to fix things for our offspring; we either literally roll up our sleeves and start tinkering until it’s all mended, or more often than not we preach, lecture, advise, teach or reprimand. We get caught in the emotion and mindlessly react – unconsciously parent – and say things that leave our children feeling saved, rescued, guilty, inadequate, shamed, blamed or even just confused. We forget to do the simplest thing of all, stop, pause and listen.
It feels as though the more wired we are the less able we are to listen. Active engaging mindful conversation is taken over by constant distant sporadic contact. In conversation, we often wait for our time to interject or talk rather than really hear what others are saying. I had lunch with my 5yrs old son and his fellow classmates earlier this week and during our little inside picnic they had dedicated ‘conversation time’. It was wonderful listening to each child’s contribution, their ability to listen to each other and even wait until it was an appropriate moment for them to speak. They had to work at the art of conversation. Figuring out the dynamics of the group, listening, registering, responding to what the others were saying; it didn’t come as naturally as one might think. Watching them, it become clear to me how and why physiologically, listening is considered to require greater brain capacity than talking – it’s complex – all the cognitive processing, categorizing that goes on in our minds as we take in what others are saying.
One of my favorite philosophers Jiddu Krishnamurti says “So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”
Consider that when we fail to listen, we are not only not hearing our children but we are not FEELING their emotions or connecting with them either. Listening to our kids is an active display of how much we respect them. It is their right to be heard. If you consider that most of what they learn is through observation, it is vital that we model the art of conversation knowing that they are listening and watching too!
SAY LESS, HEAR MORE.
I’ve always found the best way to get your children to open up is by saying very little. Using short phrases, one or two words (‘Oh yeah?’, ’Interesting’, ’And?’), especially at the beginning of a conversation to get them to a point where they feel comfortable sharing whatever may be on their minds. It’s so important they recognize that we are present, paying attention and only listening to what they’re saying. You can’t fake it – kids see right through the ‘pretending-to-listen’ facade, the semi-present-constantly-wired hologram. They need realness, authenticity. So remember to stop….and just really listen.
The power of silence while listening is immense, to your child it affirms your acceptance of their sharing. And when they share, remember you don’t always need to agree or disagree. Try to suppress any urges you may have to judge, fix, comment or spew out any wisdom; rather try something like ‘Hmmmm’ or ‘I see.’
Try phrases like:
‘That sounds interesting, tell me more…’
‘I can see that this bothers/excites you….’
‘That’s quite a story…’
‘I’m glad you’re sharing…I’d love to hear more…’
‘I love your honesty….please tell me more’
It might sound weird or inauthentic to begin with…but I promise you, you will witness the power of silence and the fruits of listening.
Once they have shared, perhaps playback some of what they’ve said to confirm you really have understood them and to show you are connecting. This is affirmation to a child; it’s important they know we understand their interpretations. Sometimes all you need to be is a sounding board, other times before jumping in trying to fix something or provide immediate counsel – perhaps ask a simple question like ‘How can I help you?’ or ‘Is there anything you need from me’ or even ‘So how are you going to handle this’? These are the first step towards helping them figure out and self manage complexities in their own lives. Sharing your own related experiences can also be helpful but encouraging them to find a solution THEY feel comfortable with is far more helpful in the long run than being preachy-teachy-fixy parent.
Some of you may recall the haunting promises of your own over bearing parents? ’This is what you must do…blah..blah..’, ‘Just tell your friend you will not…’ or worse still, ’I’m going to come in and speak to so-and-so myself’. I just remember feeling humiliated, rescued and sometimes disempowered.
So when your child is telling you something that matters to them; how someone was mean on the playground; how their teacher wore pants that looked like pajamas; how the marbles in their collection are so distinctly different even though they’re clearly all exactly same size and color or even sharing the wild adventures of their invisible friend, stop what you’re doing and just listen. Because when you do, you’re not just hearing and feeling them but you’re also helping them master the art of communication; deepening their respect for you; building their sense of self esteem and positive self concept; enhancing their ability to accept other’s points of view.….and probably even honing their ability to tell stories.
Here’s a wonderful poem I found about listening;
Take A Moment..
Take a moment to listen
To what your children are trying to say;
Listen today, whatever you do
Or they won’t be there to listen to you.
Listen to their problems. Listen to their needs,
praise their smallest triumphs, praise their smallest deeds;
Tolerate their chatter, amplify their laughter.
Find out what’s the matter; find out they’re after.
But tell them that you love them, every single night;
And though you scold them, be sure you hold them;
Tell them “Everything’s all right; tomorrow’s looking bright.”
Take a moment to listen today.
To what your children are trying to say;
Listen today, whatever you do.
And they will come back to listen to you!
Happy Listening friends…
With Peace & Love.