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Article #0204

Articles from Mac Bledsoe's Parenting With Dignity program.

Listen

Love is not just something you say; it is something you do…
and listening is one of the most loving acts a parent can do for children!

By Mac Bledsoe

Listening to children is absolute confirmation to children that they are important to us and important in the world. When a child wants to talk to us, we must make the time to stop and listen. Think about it, what message does the following send? "Please don't interrupt me; can't you see I'm reading the paper (doing the dishes, working at my desk, etc.)" Stop what you are doing. Put down your pen-broom-mouse-phone, turn and make eye contact, and listen. It doesn't take long. You can establish ground rules for certain tasks, which should not be interrupted, but the list ought to be short and limited to things which absolutely must be attended to. One of the methods that we found to be of the most help to us in teaching and then we transferred to home was to ask, "How much time do you need?" This question usually had little effect upon anything but our awareness of just how little the child was actually asking for. And, in fairness, you are then teaching your child that they too can ask, "How much of my time do you need?"

When listening to kids it is imperative that we, as parents, let the kids say it for themselves! There is a very real and constant temptation to say it for them, especially when they are stuck in a search for the right words and seem stalled. Resist the urge to give them the word and wait for them to find the one they are looking for. It is hard at first but it becomes more natural with time. Just listen and maintain eye contact; this lets them know you are still with them.

If it is not clear what they are trying to express, ask for explanation or clarification but resist the urge to jump in and say what you think they are saying for them. Get them to say it again until you get it. Remember that they are speaking to you because they have something they want you to know and they know what it is but this is the first time they have actually tried to say it. Be patient; few people are good at something on the first try.

Resist the constant parental urge to jump in with your advice. Particularly at the middle school level and up, if you constantly add your advice to their sharing the sharing will stop very quickly. Ask, "Do you want my advice or do you just want me to listen?" You MUST NOT offer advice if they indicate the latter. Just bite those bloody holes in your tongue and keep quiet. The spinoff of keeping your advice to yourself is that, eventually, they will tell you when they want your advice.

Here are six simple comments you can use to indicate that you are actively listening but are not being judgmental. Simply inject the following into pauses as your child is speaking: "Oh," "really," "wow," ummm," "I didn't know you felt like that," and "tell me more." These will indicate active listening and will encourage further comment.

One of the byproducts of listening to children is that they then build a vision of the world that says "My parents are a source of advice and knowledge and talking to them helps me to make sense of my world." Then in times of crisis don't be surprised if you are included in their struggles to make good decisions about the big stuff they encounter. It is not possible to close the door on kids small concerns and thoughts and then expect them to come to us with their big problems. We can either offer an open door or a closed door… not a door that is open at certain times and closed at others.

There is a great game called "The Ungame" which teaches us to listen to our kids and to each other. It is a very simple board game where you roll dice and move pieces around a board, and it gives prompts and questions to stimulate discussion. However, there is one rule making it unique; the only person who can speak is the one whose turn it is. Nobody else can say anything. The only way anyone else can make comment on another's statement is to wait until their next turn and then forfeit their turn to make comment or ask for explanation of a previous player's statement. It often brings about big changes in family dynamics. (To find the game, click here and type "Ungame" in the search box of Amazon.com.)

It bears mentioning that in this bit of advice we are not saying that your children can interrupt you at any time, regardless of what you are doing. Establish guidelines for them. Probably the most important of which is the appropriate way to enter an adult conversation. It might be worthwhile to establish an emergency signal for your kids to use if they simply can't wait for an appropriate entry. (Something like a strong tug on your ring finger, or saying a secret word.)

Parental listening is a gift of love that we can easily and constantly give to our children. At first it takes some discipline but soon it becomes a habit and for us there is a simple reward… our kids are talking to us! Besides that, when you listen, you hear some of the funniest stuff!

Remember that, like any other message of love, the time they most need to be listened to, is also the time when we feel least like listening. But if we can listen at these times we will confirm their self worth.


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