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Do you remember your childhood? How your parents talked to you? How other elders spoke to you? Were you acknowledged? Did they want to listen to your opinions? Did they bother to ask how your day was? How you felt about something that happened to you? What you wanted? Or, did they ignore you, NOT ask about your day, or what was the matter? Did they tell you to be quiet if you had an opinion or feelings they didn’t want to hear?
I’m sure that sounds like a lot of childhoods. I know I can relate. When I was really young, before I had been fully “trained” to behave the way the adults wanted me to, I remember a few times I tried to share at the dinner table with my extended family. HA! That was a joke! I got shut down every time. The “shutdown” looked like them talking over me and ignoring me. They didn’t tell me to shut up, or anything so crass; they may have told me, “the adults are talking,” or some sort of adult hooey like that.
So, what I want to know is:
1. Did you like being treated that way?
2. Did you, or do you, treat your kids like that, or any kids, for that matter?
3. How do you feel now when someone ignores you when you are talking?
If you can remember being treated that way, then why would you treat kids like that now, or anyone, for that matter? The answer is that we get trained a certain way by adults, usually our parental figures, and then we tend to carry on that behavior throughout life. Not because we want to, but generally because it got engrained in us.
I do not know one adult who speaks and does not want to be heard. I just “love” being ignored, talked over, given the blank stare. Do you not feel important and special when someone listens to what you have to say, and feel the exact opposite when you know you are not being heard?
Kids are sensitive little humans who want you to listen to them, as well, and who depend on adults to take care of them – providing food, clothing, shelter, and hopefully LOVE. These are BASIC needs. Check out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if you’re not familiar.
Just because they may not be able to provide for themselves until they hit a certain age, does that mean they can’t and don’t think for themselves? Does that mean they don’t have feelings? Ever seen a three-year-old want to do something for themselves, and seen how they “feel” about the situation when you don’t let them? Yeah, they pretty much start screaming and crying, right?
I know, I know. I’m asking you one question after another. It is to get you to think. Really feel into this matter, put yourself in their shoes; maybe remember what it felt like to be treated as if your opinion couldn’t possibly matter. Your feelings matter. Kids’ feelings matter. What you want matters. What they want matters! Let’s stop treating kids (and all people) as if they couldn’t possibly have any reasonable thoughts and feelings and start treating them like REAL human beings. How you treat them now shapes them into who they become later.
No, I am NOT advocating that when they want chicken tenders and fries for dinner five nights a week, or want this toy or that toy, that you give them EVERY. SINGLE. THING. THEY. WANT. This is about listening to them - their thoughts, their feelings, their opinions – on stuff that really matters, and really matters to them.
This is what Melissa Milton, Human Resource Strategic Advisor, has to say on the matter. “When we show children their voice doesn't matter as much as the adults’, we are training them their value is based on position, which can lead to competition. ‘In order to be heard, I have to be better than you.’ This isn't confidence or self-esteem, this is judgment, dominance, and arbitrary hierarchy. Think about the competitive environment we live in in this country; to be heard at a board meeting or at political town hall or in blog post, you may have to be aggressive, while making yourself vulnerable for judgment and criticism. Those with a more sensitive nature may learn to just keep quiet, and this paradigm can silence a very valuable point of view. Whomever has the loudest, most dominant voice should not necessarily be the one leading conversations or making decisions.”
“Children are students and the adults are teachers. Just like our education systems, we have a responsibility to teach them in a safe and loving way. That does not mean indulging them or making their life easy. They have a point of view that should be both challenged and cultivated -- so they can learn to think critically and not just listen to the person who talks the loudest or is sitting at the head of the table.”
We want kids to grow up with self-confidence and self-esteem. If they feel important then they will treat others as if they are important, which creates more kindness and compassion in the world; more connectedness and less separateness. Do we really need MORE separateness? It seems like we have a great divide going on in our country already, which is only causing frustration, anger, sadness and all kinds of turmoil. Peace & love, man!
I have yet to read any of Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s books, but I have listened to a lot of her talks, and I more than plan to read her books at some point. She is a child psychologist and really seems to nail-it when it comes to kids! Below is her Ted Talk, which is short and sweet, as all Ted Talks are :) - (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM_PQ2WUD2k) She is definitely worth looking into if you want to understand your child better and/or want a better relationship with them.
Next time you’re in a situation where a child or adult is talking to you, here are some simple steps you can take to be more present with them and “actively” listen.
1. Take in a deep, full-belly breath and let yourself get centered and present within yourself. This helps you be more present for others if you’re connected to yourself.
2. Make eye contact with the person talking. Don’t look at your phone, don’t stare into space, don’t look at the tv, or anything else for that matter. Look them directly in the eyes. This lets them know you’re listening, and it cultivates more connection and engagement within you.
3. Nod, ask questions, and repeat back some of the highlights of what you heard them say. This engages your listening skills and lets them know you actually WERE listening.
Listening is a skill and a gift you can offer to anyone, not just a child. It is a skill I offer my life coaching and massage clients. If you want to be heard, don’t you think the next person wants to, also? I know I have said this before, and I will say it again (like right now) – treat others how you want to be treated. That is as simple as it gets.
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