Talking with your children on a meaningful level involves numerous communication skills. A couple of the biggies are listening (without reacting) and then responding calmly based on what you heard. This is very different than the way most parents were raised. Basically, we weren’t taught how to truly listen, only to talk-sometimes in very loud and angry ways.
I met an amazing woman at a conference I attended several years ago. She was telling me about her ten-year-old son and her desire to have a closer relationship with him. In discussing some of their interactions, it became clear that she had a tendency to react to his attempts at communication, rather than to respond. And, as a result, she was unwittingly creating disconnects with her son. So, I made some suggestions about how to stop and listen to what he had to say, rather than to immediately react with defensiveness, correction or anger.
Here’s what she wrote to me, about a month after our encounter:
“I had a break-through with my son. He picked up something in a store that I asked him not to touch, and when I tried to discuss this with him, he started to cry. When I asked why he was reacting that way, he wouldn’t talk. And then, I asked him again and said to him that I promised I wouldn’t interrupt him. Well, he opened up and started to tell me how he is frustrated that no one believes that he can handle any responsibility. He feels that he can’t do anything right, and that when I talk to him sometimes I make him feel stupid. Ouch! When he stopped and looked at me, I simply said, “Thank you for talking to me. Do you feel better?” He said, “Yes,” and then we went to lunch and had a great day. Later that night, he came into my room and said, “Thank you for a great day, Mom, and thanks for listening to me!””
By choosing to stop and listen rather than react, this mom affected her son and their relationship in a number of positive ways:
• He learned that he could talk to his mother without getting in trouble.
• She learned that if she stopped and listened, he would open up.
• He learned that his mother felt his feelings were important.
• She learned that her son had a lot of feelings bottled up inside that she hadn’t even realized.
• He learned that his mother validated and understood him.
• She learned that her assumptions (e.g.–crying because he was in trouble) weren’t always accurate.
• He learned that talking to her felt good.
• She learned that listening brought them closer together.
Think about what a positive effect responding rather than reacting could have on your relationship with your kids. When talking with your children, what could you learn if you would only stop and listen to what they truly had to say?
Dr. Vicki Panaccione has been called, “The World’s Expert in Parenting,” and “The Oprah Winfrey of Families.” She is an internationally recognized psychologist, speaker, parent coach, media consultant, radio personality, prize-winning and best-selling author.
Dr. Vicki is a passionate and dedicated child psychologist committed to helping parents raise happy, successful kids–and enjoy the ride.