The late Carl Rogers said it best, “Listening has consequences.”  We all know that listening to your children and decoding what they are trying to say can be one of your toughest daily challenges.  As a busy parent, you are used to managing several tasks throughout the day.  I wonder if you do any of the following tasks during your day:

  • Plan the day in your mind while driving the kids to school
  • Watch TV while checking your email.
  • Send text messages while making the family meal.
  • Set up a doctor’s appointment while watching your child practice his sports.

Despite how well you multitask, your ability to listen well can start to break down as your “to do” list grows.  Since listening has consequences, the key to doing it well is straightforward: Kids need your attention and lots of it.  In other words, they need to see your eyes, and your body language needs to say, “I’m trying to understand you.” In contrast, when children reach out to you for any sort of connection and you seem preoccupied with something else, they feel the lack of response on a deep level.  Instead of feeling accepted and understood, the opposite occurs.  When you are too busy or caught up in your day, children can get the sense that they are:

  • Not important
  • Not a priority
  • Being deprived emotionally

It’s in these powerful moments that children start to assume they cannot rely on you for comfort.  Thus, their alarm will go off, and the survival centers in their brain will get triggered on a deep, emotional level.  What follows is the fight or flight reflex. As a result, most young children will protest the lack of attachment on some level by withdrawing (not reaching out to you anymore), attacking (throwing a tantrum), or a combination of both (acting obnoxious).  What comes as a surprise to many parents is that when kids “act out” there is far more going on than just “manipulation” or “stubbornness” or full-blown “terrorism.” The next time your child starts to pull away, throw a tantrum, or act obnoxious, take a moment to pause, stop, and tune into what’s happening.  Remember, listening has consequences.  The key to listening to your child is to tune into the unspoken message(s).

As a result, most young children will protest the lack of attachment on some level by withdrawing (not reaching out to you anymore), attacking (throwing a tantrum), or a combination of both (acting obnoxious).  What comes as a surprise to many parents is that when kids “act out” there is far more going on than just “manipulation” or “stubbornness” or full-blown “terrorism.” The next time your child starts to pull away, throw a tantrum, or act obnoxious, take a moment to pause, stop, and tune into what’s happening.  Remember, listening has consequences.  The key to listening to your child is to tune into the unspoken message(s).

A Point To Ponder

Underneath the surface of all that misbehavior is a child who may want to feel known, heard, and understood.  His misbehavior may simply be a symptom of what lies beneath the surface of his observable behavior.  His misbehavior may have far more to do with stress-behavior.  And your job is to listen in a way that helps him feel accepted so he can calm down and behave better.  Listening to kids that way helps them put language to their feeling states.  It sounds something like this: “Joey, you are upset.  I’m clearly missing something. Please tell me what’s going on and why you are so upset?”

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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive. read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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