Do you repeat the same thing over and over again without response? Are you frustrated because your child doesn’t listen to you?
If your answer is ‘yes’, you’re not alone! Those are some of the most common complaints I hear from parents during my private consultations; and whenever I hear that, two questions always come to my mind:
1. What do we really mean by ‘listening’?
Is it a synonym of ‘obeying’? More often than not, when parents complain about their children not listening, what they really mean is that their children do not drop whatever it is they’re doing, right the second the parent asks them to do something.
Therefore, the issue is not so much about ‘listening’ as it is about ‘compliance and obedience.’ I believe in parenting with love and respect, and ‘obedience’ does not fit into this definition. The same way I wouldn’t expect my spouse or any other adult to blindly obey what I say, I don’t expect that from my daughters either. Obedience, in my book, is NOT the epitome of good parenting.
As Alphie Kohn points out in his book ‘Unconditional Parenting’ that when parents are asked what their long term goals for their children are, they say they want their kids to be ethical, compassionate, independent, happy, accomplished, self-confident, etc. No parent says they want their children to grow up into obedient adults. I certainly do not want my daughters to grow up to be compliant women, I want them to question authority, to have their own opinions, to make their own decisions (and their own mistakes), to be creative… and to not mindlessly obey anybody (not even me!).
Most of what we see as disobedience in our children is either natural, curious, discovering, learning, developmentally appropriate behavior; a way of letting you know that one of their needs is not being met; or a reaction to a situation in which they do not feel comfortable or safe with, or have no control over.
The need for children’s obedience that many parents have is usually associated with parents’ fear that…
- the child will grow up to be a rebellious, sociopath, anarchist monster. This terrible view of humane nature is not based on any empirical evidence.
- they will be misunderstood by their peers and by family. After all, most people still believe a good child is an obedient child.
- their child will have trouble at school with her teachers. Many teachers are still not open to the idea of having their students questioning their lessons.
Forcing children into blind obedience has terrible consequences. Children might not learn to think for themselves and will always value their parents’ (or other authoritative figure’s) voice over their own. They might not learn how to make their own decisions. They might be pushed around and manipulated by their peers.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating permissive parenting, I am not arguing that children can be disrespectful and have no limits, I am not suggesting that children can do as they please whenever they want. I am proposing a way of parenting that is based on mutual respect, love and cooperation; and that will eliminate the power struggles between the parent and the child and will allow the child to turn into an independent, confident and mindful adult.
2. How well do we listen to our children?
As with many other issues in parenting, the way our children do something tends to be a direct reflection of how we do that same thing. What does this mean? It means that in order to get your child to listen, you first have to listen to her. If they feel listened to, they will be more inclined to listen to you. It is that simple and that complicated!
We are giving our children the best example of what listening is all about. We are modeling a certain way of listening and communicating for them. How do you listen when your child talks to you? How do you usually respond when your child talks to you or asks you to do something for her (read a book, tell a story, play on the floor, go see a bug…)? Is your common response any of these…?
- Delay request (i.e. ‘Just a minute,’ ‘I can’t right now, I doing something else’)
- Casual nod, but no eye-to-eye connection (i.e. ‘Umm’)
- Uninterested response while you’re still looking at your cellphone (i.e. ‘I see’)
- No response, just ignore and go on with what you’re doing
- Repeated (and not very uplifting) lecture (i.e. ‘I told you many times not to…,’ ‘That happened because you….’)
- Constant interruptions
- Frequent commands
- Response before they are done talking
As parents we often create communication problems with our children, because we don’t really listen to what they are saying. Whenever we don’t listen to our children, they notice. Not listening does not only mean that we are not hearing what they are saying, it also means that we are not plugged in with what they are trying to tell us. We make assumptions about what they are trying to say, we draw conclusions without making sure we understood the message. We talk too much or launch into lectures.
The best way I know to get children to listen is to listening to them first. Listening intently, listening with interest, listening making sure we ‘get’ what they are saying, listening making sure we understand what’s not being said, and listening making sure our children know they are loved, always and that we are listening.
Parenting is a journey in which we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves, about our children and about human nature. Parenting is the best journey towards self-understanding, personal improvement, mindfulness and consciousness.
Let’s love the ride!
Much love, Diana-