Listening to Our Children

The art of listening sometimes feels like a lost art, especially when it comes to our children. Not only do we rarely take the time to listen to our children without judgment, we often forget to ask them questions about how they are feeling, what are their fears and aspirations, why they are acting the way they are. Sometimes as adults we think we have better answers because of our experience or we are wiser and thus do not need to know the reasons children do what they do. As a parent I have gotten myself into many unnecessary arguments with my children over issues that when emotions are calmer we actually agree on. What happens is I make an assumption and then my children get angry about the assumption and then nothing gets resolved.

For example, when my daughter was in senior high school she was asked to a party at a friend’s house and asked if she would go. I asked if adults were going to be present and she said no. Something in the way she responded made me pause before telling her she could not go. So instead of the immediate no which would have drawn a line in the sand and possibly caused a fight, I asked her how she felt about having no adults present. It led to a wonderful conversation about her fears and concerns about this friend and some of her risky behavior. After I just listened, she commented that she really did not want to attend the party. I felt immediately she needed to save face with her friend so I told her to tell her friend that I forbid her to go. My daughter was much relieved. The result would have been the same whether I said no immediately or asked for my daughter’s thoughts; she would not go to the party. However the process is different, it was affirming my daughter’s ability to make her own decisions, it resulted in an important conversation about behavior which was troubling my daughter and it allowed our relationship to strengthen while giving a way for my daughter to save face with her friend. I did not mind appearing to be the bad guy. By listening first before answering, my daughter was able to work through a difficult situation herself and our relationship based on mutual trust was strengthened.

We can also do this for the children in our RE programs. We can ask a question; listen without judgment before making snap decisions. I was told about an event from a DRE about a young man who hit a girl for taking his pen. Most of the adults were horrified and wanted to administer immediate punishment by kicking him out of the program. The DRE had the kindness to ask this young man what was going on. She knew he came from a very troubled family with a primarily absent father. He told her that the pen was the only gift he had ever received from his Dad and therefore it was special to him. When we ask a question and then listen without judgment, we often find out what motivates a child and then we can help them help themselves. Punishment was the last thing this young man needed. Asking a question and then listening gives us insight into behavior and dictates a much different response. There are consequences to behavior so the young man needs to apologize, yet he can do so knowing that the adults are also on his side and will work with him to find ways to cope with a difficult family situation.

Before making assumptions about a child’s behavior, ask a question first and then listen from that place of love, acceptance, and trust. It allows us to connect on a deep level and we learn as much as the child.

Categories Tips for Inclusion for Churches | Tags: | Posted on June 15, 2009

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