Learn to Listen-- About Kids
Those of us without verbal skills may not say anything, might even over-look a child’s errant behavior. That’s sometimes called benign neglect. Or, worse, they succumb to bullying or unfair, unreasonable disciplinary tactics (usually poorly executed) that alienate the child. Kids, as they grow and become more confident, can make fools out of us, force us to play a hand that's already been played unsuccessfully many times over. But even when it feels like we’re losing, we’re really ahead. Why?
They need us to love them and approve of them and their choices, as insane as those choices sometimes seem to be. (The best blog, by the way, on parenting and giving kids healthy choices is Of Fish and Family. I'm not saying you have to give in to what kids want, by the way, just entertain their ideas).
If you parent well, your children will come to you when the rest of the world treats them badly. That's the reason for family, really, to provide a supportive place to lift us up when we’re down, support us not only physically, but emotionally, into adulthood. It’s a sign that we’ve been successful if they call us when they need us, especially when they have no where else to turn, and that happens. We can always say no if “helping” the child is enabling, if it makes it easier for the child to repeat compulsive, destructive behavior.
It's hard to recognize that the power differential is in our favor when faced with an oppositional toddler or rebellious adolescent (who may not be small but is still dependent and vulnerable, despite the capacity to drive us nuts). But the power differential is there. We have the car keys, so to speak, and the experience, and professional resources to turn to for support, if necessary. For example, we can choose to bail them out of jail, defend them in court, give that second chance that they will give our grandchildren.
Parents can run circles around their kids if they want, especially if we strategize, include a spouse or a partner. If one of us sides with a child over the another, we lose power. There's no way to win if the adults don't sit on the executive committee.
The executive committee in a family should consist of at least two parents or partners who make decisions together about the kids. Ideally, we leave the kids off the committee, Ideally, because in some families, one or both of the parents may not be psychologically able to make sound decisions, and in some families, there is no partner. And in some families the adults are more like children than their children.
The most powerful strategy is listening to the child, and teaching the child to listen back. The single most powerful weapon we have is our capacity to listen until the other runs out of words, is talked out. When a person talks it all out, it feels good (usually), it is the essence of therapy, really. The speaker respects the listener.
I sometimes tell the story of a therapist (with permission) married with two young children and another on the way. She wasn't working outside the home, and one day took a phone call from her husband's partner who spilled the bad news that both had lost their jobs. The therapist went wild with anxiety and fear, but she decided that this wasn't about her, she would wait until he got home and see what he had to say. He came home that evening and she greeted him, Let's talk.
They sat down on the sofa. She didn't say another thing for an hour and a half. When he finally stopped talking he turned to her and said, simply, Thank you. It was then that this therapist understood the power of listening. She says it influenced how she practices, now that she’s back to work.
Those of us who have been in therapy know this, how good it feels to be heard, uninterrupted. It feels like unconditional love.
Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc