“A child seldom needs a good talking to as a good listening to.”
The more I meet with children, their parents, and their teachers, the more I hear a common, recurring theme. Children, like adults, simply want to be heard. They want to be understood. Although this may seem like an obvious statement, we often take for granted how truly hard it is just to listen. This is particularly true when our children are struggling. Children have a very difficult time communicating when they are struggling. They often say or do things that lead us adults to scold, reprimand, threaten, etc. rather than try to understand. When our child says, “I’m not going to school today!” and we say, “Oh yes you are!” we are not listening. When our child screams, “It’s not fair!” and we respond, “Get used to it, life’s not fair,” we are not listening. When our child slams their door and we threaten, “If you do that again, I am taking away your cell phone for a month!” we are not listening. When our student says, “I suck at math!” and we respond “No, you don’t,” we are not listening. When our student says, “Nobody likes me,” and we counter with, “I’m sure that’s not true,” we are not listening.
Listening is difficult and complicated, even under the best of circumstances. Listening to a child who communicates in a less than ideal (and sometimes “disrespectful” or unsafe) manner is even harder. When our child screams, hits, curses, defies, etc., we need to tune in to what he or she is trying to communicate and then help him or her communicate it better. When our child says, “I’m not going to school today!” we might say, “I understand that you are stressed about your test.” When our child screams, “It’s not fair!” we might respond, “I know you are disappointed that the field trip was canceled.” When our child slams their door, we might state, “I’m sorry you are so frustrated.” When our student says, “I suck at math!” we might respond, “I know that math has been difficult to understand recently.” When our student says, “Nobody likes me,” we might say, “It sounds like you have been feeling pretty lonely lately.”
Listening is hard. Unfortunately, the children who need to be heard the most, often behave in ways that make it very difficult for adults to listen to them. So, when you see your child behaving in ways that concern you, remind yourself, “My child is not giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time.” Frequently, the child is having a hard time communicating and it is therefore up to us as adults to help them communicate better. When we do that, they will feel heard and understood. When they feel heard and understood, we will begin to see fewer problematic behaviors and more communication. When we continue to provide this support and understanding, our children will begin to communicate more and more on their own. Ultimately, they will be able to communicate without our support. So, if you want your child to behave, to follow the rules, and to learn how to handle life, just listen.
Feel free to share your thoughts below.