Understanding your child is like piecing together a puzzle. It involves listening to what your child is saying, thinking about his underlying message, focusing on his body language…and assembling his complete picture.
All too often, while our child is talking, his words whiz from one of our ears through the other, but we still have not heard what he is trying to express. For example, your seventh grade daughter announces, “I’m not inviting friends over anymore.” Is she trying to say that she no longer has any friends to invite? Or is she telling you that she’s embarrassed that the house is messy and disheveled. Or your ninth grade son says, “There’s nothing wrong with smoking.” Is he trying to assert his power? Be one of the “gang?” Or is he in the mood of being contrary? It’s not enough to merely hear; we must listen, perceive and understand.
How do we become more perceptive?
For starters, listen with your whole body. You should stop washing the dishes or balancing the checkbook. Focus. Make eye contact. And really listen. You’ll be surprised at what you discover.
While listening, make use of the active listening skills you’ve mastered.
- Reflect your child’s feelings and message.
- Repeat the information you’ve heard back to your child to ensure that you’ve understood him correctly. This will reassure the child that you have heard him and understood him or give him the opportunity to clarify his needs in case of error.
- Throughout the conversation, listen non-judgmentally. All too often, we’re too busy formulating responses instead of focusing on the other person’s words. That turns the conversation into a rebuttal. Be accepting. You will make your home a safe place for open conversation.
Deciphering the Actions
Besides understanding our child’s verbal messages, we also must decode his unspoken messages, sent to us via his actions. Children don’t act out of character without reason. As parents, it is our obligation to try to discover the motive behind our child’s irregular behavior.
For example, your child comes home from school unusually quiet. Is he angry or sad about something that happened in school?
During mealtime, your child is barking, criticizing and talking with impatience. Is he angry or annoyed, and about what?
Your child is jumpy and wild. He may be excited about an event that has happened or will happen.
Your child is feeling slow and lazy. He may be tired or in need of a break.
Your child is fighting with his siblings. He doesn’t feel noticed, accepted or loved, so he may therefore provoke others.
Your child is hurting others. He may be feeing hurt or jealous.
A child acts out when he is unhappy. There is always a trigger, and it is our responsibility to identify it. There are four mistaken goals of behavior, attention, power, revenge and inadequacy. Usually, a child’s behavior is a reflection of inner emotions. Behaviors are supposed to be red flags, telling us to probe deeper. When a parent assesses a child based entirely on external factors, he often misses the punch line. It’s like a doctor who pronounces a diagnosis after observing his patient’s external symptoms.
When we fine-tune our listening, our observation and our perception, we can attain greater levels of sensitivity and empathy.
Did you wish as a child that your mother would’ve listened better to you?