I remember, whenever my little toddler fell down just to distract her I would say: “Yeah! Do it again.” I never realised how insensitive I was being till once I slipped and fell and she delightedly clapped her hands and said: “Yeah, Amma do it again!”
“Oops,” I thought as I sat there winded and hurting, did she feel slighted like I did. Nevertheless you can be sure the next time she fell I went and cuddled her and made a big fuss. Yes, we have to really listen to what our kids say and respond accordingly. This helps build bonds and develops your child’s trust. This is a tough skill to develop. I always heard what I wanted to and could never read between the lines. Now with so many years of practice I am better and I suppose the fact that I am the first one called when they are feeling low means I must have done something right.
A few things we can do
Encourage your child to speak: Some kids are naturally chatty and others need to be prodded and gently nudged to express themselves. Don’t try to provide words, let them say what they have to in their own way.
Be patient and listen: This is tough. The work you have brought home has to be done.
Respond in a sensitive way: Unlike me please be attuned with your child’s feelings and don’t belittle or make a joke of it.
Observe body language and non-verbal forms of communication. The holding of one’s breath, the agitation or enjoyment are all there in their actions and expressions.
How can I improve my
Tone of voice: As a teacher I always spoke loudly (and still do). It was tough trying to speak softly and sound more sympathetic and open.
Hear your child out, don’t disrupt: Our little ones tend to ramble and may not say what happened in a logical sequence or may not have the vocabulary. Wait and let them find the words or act and show you what they meant. I found I needed this skill even when dealing with my dad who had a clot in the brain and subsequent surgeries when he was recovering.
Place yourself in your child’s shoes: See what makes him or her excited or try and understand the fears. The comic strip MARVIN shows little Marvin looking at his parents and saying: “I am at a height disadvantage in this game of one-upmanship!”
Be present physically and mentally: Unless we can put our concerns away and listen from the point of total attention we can never get what they want to say. My husband had this knack; he would just lie down with the kid and wait for the child to spill it all with no reaction on his face. This encouraged the children to reveal their deepest fears or worst blunders. I on the contrary had a face that mirrored my anxiety, horror, joy and that made it tough for them.
Show curiosity: After all is said ask questions that are non-threatening or non-judgmental. This encourages them to speak, helps them look deeper and makes them feel listened to.
Have an open mind: Very often they have their own view of things and it is so revealing and eye-opening for us. I remember for catechism we had to learn the Ten Commandments and one was ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’. This little kid wanted to know why not apple tree or mango tree why only “adul tree”
Some ways to develop
the listening skill
Set aside a time to talk: Just as there are meal times and fun times set aside, some time to chat could be at night just before your child sleeps or any other convenient time, try and make it a habit, part of a routine.
Be receptive to all feelings do not get angry: It is difficult to understand their logic but don’t get angry. This will stop them from sharing with you.
Don’t be in a hurry to respond: Very often when we listen to what they say and mull over it we get additional insight or if we talk it over with our spouse then our advice is usually more unbiased.
Refrain from lecturing: Don’t go lecturing and talking about what XXXX’s child did! I hated it and I am sure our kids are no different.
Use language that is easily understood by your child: Use examples terms and language that your child can understand and relate to.
Don’t judge or criticise or blame: This is the toughest, very often as parents we want our children to do things our way, we have to lead by example and give the right stimulation.
Khalil Gibran on Children
You may give them your love but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their soul’s dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backwards nor tarries with yesterday.
(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)