Episode #4 of the course Parenting skills to raise responsible, mature children by Roger K. Allen, PhD
Today, we are going to study listening, one of the most important skills we can use with our children. We do more to build trust and help our children grow in emotional maturity and self-responsibility with this skill than any other.
I can best teach listening by offering an example. Notice the difference between the first and second versions of this story.
The Son Who Doesn’t Want to Ride the Bus
Brian: “Dad, I’m not riding the bus to school anymore.”
Father: “What do you mean you’re not riding the bus? How do you plan to get to school?”
Brian: “I’ll walk.”
Father: “You can’t walk. It’s too far. Besides, there aren’t sidewalks. It’s not safe.”
Brian: “Well then, I’ll ride my bike.”
Father: “Brian, you’re not thinking. Do you know how many cars are out on the road at that time of morning? Riding your bike is even more dangerous than walking. I can’t let you do that.”
Brian: “I know lots of kids who ride their bikes. Their parents don’t think it’s unsafe.”
Father: “Oh, I doubt if it’s lots of kids. Besides, you should be happy for parents who love you and are concerned about your safety.”
Brian: “Dad, you’re not fair. It doesn’t ever matter to you what I want. You’re always saying no.”
Father: “I don’t think so. I let you do a lot. Sometimes I think I can never satisfy you kids, no matter how hard I try.”
Brian: “Gee, I wish I had never brought this up.” [Withdraws, sullen]
Father: “Look, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. About once a week, I’ll go into work a little bit later than usual. How about if I drive you to school those days? I know it’s not every day, but it seems like a good compromise to me.”
How do you think Brian is feeling after this interaction with his father? Is he more or less likely to open up to his father in the future? What was his father’s intent? Is he aware of the consequences of his approach on his son?
Let’s consider how this interaction might have gone if Brian’s father had listened with his heart.
Brian: “Dad, I’m not going to ride the bus to school anymore.”
Father: “What’s up, son?”
Brian: “Oh, I don’t know. Nothing much. I’m just tired of riding the bus every day, that’s all.”
Father: “You’ve been riding it a long time.”
Brian: “I have. Seven years now, and almost every day. I think it’s time for a change. I’d like to walk or ride my bike.”
Father: “So, you’re exploring other ways you could get to school.”
Brian: “Yeah. It sure would be nice if you could take me. Do you think you could?”
Father: “Well, son, I have to be at work before you leave for school. I’m not sure that’s an option.”
Brian: “I didn’t think so. Maybe I’ll have to walk.”
Father: “Walking seems like one choice.”
Brian: “I suppose. The problem is, it’s a long way. I’d have to get up earlier. Besides, we don’t have sidewalks, so it’s not very safe.”
Father: “Walking doesn’t seem like a very good option.”
Brian: “No, neither does my bicycle.”
Father: “It doesn’t seem to you that there are any good choices here.”
Brian: “Nope.” [A long pause. Father is quiet.] “And, you know, it’s really not the bus. The bus is convenient. I just don’t like the other kids, that’s all.”
Father: “Hmm. What’s going on with the kids?”
Brian: “They’re rude and noisy. I try to read or talk to someone, but other kids interrupt me.”
Father: “Sounds pretty frustrating.”
Brian: “That’s the truth. There’s one guy, Blaine. He really gives me a bad time. He’s a grade ahead of me and a jerk. I’m the guy he’s decided to pick on. He punches me, pushes me around, and calls me names. It’s really embarrassing. I dread going to the bus stop. It ruins my whole day.”
Father: “It really hurts the way Blaine treats you. It affects everything.”
Brian: “Yes. It is ruining school this year. It is all I can think about.” [Long pause]
Father: “I think sharing this with me took some courage. You didn’t know how I’d react.”
Brian: “Yeah, but I’m glad I did.”
[Father opens their arms and Brian accepts a warm hug.]
Father: “Maybe we could talk about what you can do and what I need to do about this.”
Brian: “I’d like that.”
What is different this time around? What is the impact on Brian? On the trust and goodwill within the father-son relationship? On Brian’s ability to take responsibility for his relationships and behavior?
Of course, sometimes our children share a problem that requires us to intervene. Bullying is an example. The father does need to help his son solve this problem by talking to other adults: the bus driver, the teacher, and perhaps the principal.
Yet, how fortunate that he avoided the temptation to judge or lecture his son or tell him how to solve the problem. Not only did it build trust and help Brian open up, but they were able to get to the real problem. I call this bedrock, or solid ground. Getting to bedrock requires respect, safety, and openness. We don’t get to bedrock when we don’t listen, when we rush in with our solutions.
So, listen to your kids today. Listen when they complain. Let them express themselves without thinking you have to fix things. Be curious about their good and bad experiences. Be a safe place in which they can share their feelings and point of view.
We’ll continue with listening in the next lesson.
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