A while ago I published a post about how to make our children listen to us.
I just read an interesting article on iamexpat.nl “It is all about resiliency: Communication” by Mary Jane Roy, about how conflicts are caused by ineffective communication. This ineffective communication “leads to stress, usually for both sides (…) and they often lead to long term grudges as well which are hugely toxic to us physically, mentally and emotionally”. This article is about communication among adults, but I think the tips given are universal and can be applied also for communications among parents and their children, teachers and children etc.
A good communication is always the result of a good balance between communicating what we want to say and listening, hearing what the other person needs.
We probably all assume that we know how to communicate: “we know how to speak, write and read. But do we really know how to listen?”
With this question, Mary Jane Roy made me think about me and my children during those moments when we’re in a hurry or all talking together during meals and we adults try to give everyone a fair chance to speak. With three very chatty children I often wonder if they really did say all they wanted to say, and if we did really listen carefully.
In her article, Mary Jane Roy says that all is related to how our brains function:
“We carry our own baggage into conversations. Our past experiences, needs, values, language, self-image, beliefs, prejudices, attitudes, wants, fears, mind-sets all influence what we hear and how we interpret what we hear. It’s a long list. Our brain filters the information it receives based on all of these factors. We think we know what the other person says and means but we can never, ever truly stand in their shoes. Your reality won’t be, can’t be, their reality.”
We all had probably this experience with our children or during meetings at work, when we tend to formulate the answers in our head while the other person is still speaking: “there are constant barrage of thoughts or judgments. We can’t wait for the other person to stop talking so we can make our point.”
Personally, I call this the “stress-to-answer-straightaway-syndrome”. I observed it many times during meetings and realize that I do this with my children too. We often don’t take the time to listen carefully and to wait until the other one finished to speak. Especially when the conversation is among more than one person and we know that we have a very short time to answer, or we absolutely want to tell our point of view etc.
During conversations with children there are some more factors to consider: children expect to be heard and often need to tell straightaway what they think, otherwise they forget what they wanted to say or ask and get upset.
Mary Jane Roy uses a very nice metaphore to describe how to communicate effectively:
“Really effective communication is like a couple dancing in total harmony with each other. It can be learned. But it takes a lot of practice. And we’ll make a lot of mistakes before we master it.”
And then she gives a great advice: breathing. Yes, breathing. When in the middle of a conversation we feel the urge to find an answer, we should slow down, take a deep breath. This is supposed to “open up a gap between a stimulus (what someone said or did) and our response”.
Why we should do this? In order to give our brain the possibility to think logically and creatively. I know that many mum’s and dad’s have to think and take (action!) in highly emotional moments (and moments of fear and anger). How could we possibly apply this in our daily life with children? We can’t just avoid conflicts. They are there, every day. With our collegues, friends, children, partners.
Mary Jane Roy suggests Marshall Rosenberg’s method called “Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication”. This method teaches to connect compassionately with ourselves and with others. It reminds me the empathy that parents should show to their children in the Love & Logic method.
In my experience, empathy always helps to have good conversations with our children. When we engage a conversation with them, we should forget time and all the other things we’re supposed to do (and say) and just listen. If we manage to put ourselves inside the shoes of our youngsters and see the world through their eyes, our conversation will be much richer and interesting for both parts. We don’t have to agree with everything they say, but we will probably be prone to ask them to explain their point of views. Especially when we disagree, when we are upset (for whatever reason) or disappointed in our children, empathy matters the most.
The communication with our children shouldn’t just be “speaking“ to them, giving them orders, asking them to do something etc. but listening, understanding and validating what they are attempting to say. We shouldn’t interrupt them or tell them how they should be feeling, and avoid words like never and always in a demeaning way.
And quoting some conflicts listed by Mary Jane Roy’s at the beginning of her article, I would recommend to slow down and listen empathetically when:
- you feel that you’re mind-reading your child, assuming you know what your child means.
- you create fiction for yourself from something your child said.
- you jump in, offering your “two cents worth“, not knowing the whole story and ending up with the proverbial foot in mouth…
Summing it up, during our conversation with our children, the aim should be: not to jump to conclusions, not to guess or mind-read what the other person is saying, but to ask for clarity, slow down our own pace and… enjoy the listening!
Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. (Catherine M. Wallace)
- The more you know a person, the harder empathy is. The more you have studied psychology, the harder empathy really is. (beyondmeds.com)
- The importance of therapy, play and empathy (creativityfromwithin.wordpress.com)
- Empathy (patinspire.org)
- Tips to Encourage and Foster Empathy in Children (benspark.com)