Just as important as what you say to your children is how you listen to them. Give your children your undivided attention when they are sharing with you. Turn off the television, put away the paperwork, get off the computer, just listen. Acknowledge what they say and hear them out. Your job is to be approachable when they need you. Understand that they are children and may not express as effectively as you do, but let them try. This is not the time to correct them or critique their verbal skills. Just like your spouse, they want to be heard. Oftentimes whether they are heard or not has a greater impact on their esteem than whether they get their way.
A mother brought in her son, a young man about sixteen. She wanted someone to talk to him because he wouldn’t open up at home, and he seemed to be carrying a great deal of anger. When he entered the office it was apparent things were going to get interesting. The first thing he did was sit in the chair in front of the desk, raise his leg to the desk, and push his chair back about four feet from it. Arms folded, body rigid in the chair, he was very direct in his communication: “I don’t have a f—in’ thing to say to you.”
It was obvious what he was expecting. This coarse phrase would elicit a reaction and get him thrown out of the office. Ah, he would have to do better than that! I calmly told the young man, “That’s entirely up to you. But if you want to chat, I’d love to hear what you have to say.” He was very confused, and when he realized my response was sincere, no one could keep this guy from talking! He was thrilled to have a venue to be heard. As he talked more and more, his entire demeanor changed and his body language loosened up. He was able to be direct in areas where his behavior was not serving him productively, and he was eager to listen to what I said.
In the end, after speaking with his mother, it was apparent that his father didn’t really connect with him because they never talked. The son never had a voice in the house, and when he was bold enough to speak, his father shut him down immediately. His behavior issues were simply symptoms of a much greater problem: poor communication in the home.
Consider your own home. In what ways do you frustrate your child by not providing them a venue to share with you? How might the behaviors and communication we, as parents, demonstrate to our children play out in their lives as they become adults and parents?
©2014 Eric A. Disney, Marriage by Design
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