“I was a wonderful parent before I had children,” write Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. As many of you know, living with children is entirely different than the fantasies we script in our heads. Therefore, Faber and Mazlish offer a solution to make your relationships with your children less stressful and more rewarding.
According to Faber and Mazlish, parents try to “help” their children in one of the following ways:
- Denial of Feelings, such as “There’s no reason to be upset.”
- The Philosophical Response, such as “Life is like that.”
- Advice, such as “You know what I think you should do…”
- Questions, such as “Didn’t you realize this would happen?”
- Defense of the Other Person, such as “I can understand your friend’s reaction.”
- Pity, such as “I feel so sorry for you.”
- Amateur Psychoanalysis, such as “Has it ever occurred to you that the real reason you’re upset is…”
But these responses don’t acknowledge your child’s pain or give her a chance to talk more about it. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk argues that “the language of empathy does not come naturally to us” because most of us grew up having our feelings denied.
To Help with Feelings
- Listen with full attention
- Acknowledge their feelings with a word, such as “Oh” or “I see.”
- Give their feelings a name.
- Give them their wishes in fantasy.
Now, I’ve tried to use this last one a lot, but I must say it rarely plays out as planned. I remember this one time I told my younger daughter how I wished I had a magic power to make more Ritz Bitz appear and she replied, “Well, sissy has a magic hat. I’m going to go see if she can help me.”
The biggest mistake I make as a parent is giving advice. When my kids announce they are tired, I tell them to rest. When they claim to be hungry, I tell them to eat. And when they insist that they’re not, I tell them to eat anyway. But as Faber and Mazlish point out, parents must “resist the temptation to ‘make better’ instantly.
As a middle school teacher, I was always extremely aware of this. I often had sixth grade students, who were incapable of solving any problems on their own. There was this boy, in particular, who bombarded me with questions, fearful of mistakes, convinced he didn’t know the ‘right’ answer. The irony, of course, was that he was one of the smartest children in the class, but he’d been robbed of any sense of self-confidence by parents who were always trying to ‘help.’ I swore I would never do this to my kids but of course I do.
Not long ago, my four-year-old yelled, “You’re making me angrier than a lion who hasn’t had lunch” and then she roared. While I marveled at her use of metaphor, I thought the roar a bit much, but she found it such a great way to release her frustration that she’s taken to roaring, the way a teapot whistles whenever it’s about to blow it’s top. Imagine my surprise, when I read at the end of chapter one in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, physical activities, such as roaring, can be extremely effective.It’s amazing what you can learn from your kids if you stop talking long enough to listen.