Cindy as a newborn. She was about 3 days old here. Weighing 8 pounds 13 ounces and 21.5 inches long, she seemed nearly half grown when she was born! I love the curious look in her face. It appears as if she is saying, "This is not at all like the world I have known. Everything is so strange. What is this life going to be like?"
Being a parent is perhaps the hardest job we will ever face in our lifetime! Every child is different, & every situation brings on different challenges. we cannot know ahead of time what to expect, or what we will do to remedy the situation. Experience alone is out there to teach us! The way we listen to others and especially our children tells a lot about us as a person. It tells others whether we are listening to them, or not, whether we are interested in their feelings, or if we are passive and non-reactive to their needs and problems.
The way we react has been built on habits we have formed from early childhood. We have brought many bad habits into our life as we live it today. We have created barriers we must break down before we can be effective listeners. We are not discussing discipline at this point, we are speaking of the times a child needs someone to listen to him.
Let's talk about our own attitudes for a moment. Imagine you are living the scene that is about to be described. You are a young mother, it has been an exhausting day for you. Your children ages 3 and 1 have been into things they normally don't bother. You are behind in a project you had hoped to have completed the week before. You have been rushing around trying to keep the kids out of trouble. It is now half an hour before your husband is due home from work, you have not even begun fixing dinner. He has a meeting he has to hurry off to, after dinner. You are trying to come up with a quick, easy meal that can still be ready in time. Your 3 year old comes up to you and cries, "Mommy, Sammy took my bear away!" What is likely to be your response?
What about the older children, your day has gone as described above, but you have children ages 10, 8, 5 and 3. The ten year old, a boy, loves to tease and torment his younger brothers and sister. She has her favorite doll she loves and cares for just as you would you own children. She is always loving, kind, and cautious with her "baby". Now Greg, the oldest has taken the doll away from her, and whacked the doll's head against the door jamb hard! He refuses to give the doll back. Sally comes screaming into the kitchen and cries mercifully, telling you of her plight. What is likely to be your reaction?
Open attacks on the child at this time, needs to be avoided. The following possible statements are all examples of parents showing power. The parent thinks he has the upper hand, therefore can control the child's behavior. "Why do you bother me over such little things?" ... "Why do you have to act like a baby about that?" ... "Is it possible for you to take care of your own squabbles, for a change, I am busy!", or "If you don't get out of here, and let me think, you are really going to regret it!" These attacks will send a child into withdrawl from the parent, goster aggressive behavior in the child, or maybe lead to childhood depression, leaving the child feeling unappreciated and rejected.
Another pitfall we need to avoid is belittling the child, or putting her down. In this case, we may take time to listen to the child, but our responses to her feelings are telling her we cannot accept her. Don't bother me. The child may feel she has no right to have problems. Examples of this kind of response would include,..."I agree, but you must learn to settle your own problems." ... "That's too bad, but can't you go get another toy, and let Sammy have the bear?" ... or, "Sally, it's only a doll for heaven's sake! It does not have feelings!" Children faced with this kind of response will learn to seek out friends who not only will accept the child's feelings, but her behavior, whether her behavior, right or wrong.
Praising a child can lead to problems if it is not done in the correct manner, also. Every child needs to know he is doing a good job, that his efforts are not only accepted but appreciated and understood. Often we use praise to manipulate a child into feeling better about a situation. However, used in this manner, the child may learn not to confide in us. Take a look at Ginger, one 13 year old girl's example. She is pretty, slender, and very pleasant to be around. One young man her age states she is "skinny, then makes rude remarks about her having "bird legs." She comes in and askes quite bluntly, "Do you think I am skinny?" trying to help her feel better, you say, "No! You aren't skinny. One thing you certainly have going for you is the fact that you are always fun and exciting to be around!" It is wonderful how these things can happen to you, and your feelings are never hurt! You really have things under control! You are such a wonderful daughter!"
By now, Ginger is feeling worse that before! Her feelings have been hurt, and she knows it. You are telling her she never lets that happen! Now, she will really have a difficult time telling you about her feelings, and how this boy really hurt them!
There are a few things we need to understand about listening, so we can be effective when listening to our children. We can better listen to them if we show genuine interest in their problems. If we are truely interested we will listen intently, quietly and calmly. If we are not quite and calm and do not show interest in the child, we will be giving her the impression we are not concerned. Our nonverbal communication is very important in these situations. The child has got to know you are intently listening. Eye contact, and showing you care with facial expressions is of utmost importance. However, if the child preceives indifference, anger or frustration in your expression, you will be sending a message of "I really don't care."
By acknowledging what the child is saying with simple statements such as, "Oh, yes, I do see what you mean."... "Oh, Timmy, really did hurt your feelings, didn't he?" .... "I know your baby is really just a doll, but to you she is real, and you don't want anything to happen to her.", you are showing the child not only have you heard him, but you understand why he is frustrated or hurt. The child will then come back to you in the future when a problem presents itself.
If we invite the child to speak out about his problem by using leading questions or comments we are opening the doors of communication, trust and sharing of personal feelings. We need to make every effort we can on our part not to have these statements create defensiveness in the child. If he is putting all his energy into defending himself, and his feelings, he cannot be placing any energy into learning to trust you as a person he can come to when the big problems arrive. Instead of saying, "Why on earth would you want to quit school?", you could say, "Would you mind telling me more about your feelings?" .... "I am not sure I do understand?" ... "I'll be happy to talk to you about it, but first I need to know more about your feelings." These are all ways to open the doors of communication and in making it easier for the child to come to us.
Good parenting skills are not learned overnight. We must live and learn. We must experience being a parent, before we can hope to gain confidnece in our own skills, and begin to master them. We must always be on the tips of our toes, ready to grasp new ways of showing our children we really are listening, and that we really do care about them, and what they are going through.
When situations come about and we blow it with the child, we can take the child in our arms and tell them we did not mean to lose our temper, or to appear as if we did not care, or say soemthing that made them become defensive, hurt their feelings, or make them feel inferior. Children are very forgiving, and very ready to give is another chance.
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Parenting is the most serious task you will be
taking upon yourself. Children grow to be adults,
and they are the product of what we have taught, them to be. Our challenge is in learning how we
better at being a parent!