My sister, Amy, tells a story about her youngest son, Spencer, when he was an infant and had a piece of hair wrapped around his big toe. The hair was cutting into his skin, and it took Amy three days to figure out why he was so “fussy.” She had no idea what was wrong and couldn’t connect his whines and cries to his toe.
Fifteen years later, Amy still feels guilty about missing his clues.
However, as awful as she feels about the “hair incident,” Amy will tell you she feels equally challenged in trying to understand Spencer today. Since my kids are just 8 and 10, I listen closely to Amy’s thoughts. Her wisdom, from one of our recent email exchanges, is particularly insightful. I’ve edited it for flow and a few personal details, but the voice belongs to Amy…
I always felt bad about “the hair incident” because if Spencer could have told me what was wrong, I would have fixed it much sooner. I wasn’t frustrated with his inability to communicate, but with my ability to understand.
But the same is true with teenagers. They don’t always have the ability to express what’s really going on in their heads. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that a teenager can dialog as an adult just because they have the vocabulary of an adult.
I’m convinced I was better equipped to meet my children’s needs when they were infants. I worked hard to understand them and when I did, I had more empathy and was more willing to meet them where they were.
Now I need to work just as hard by saying less. Honestly, I think words have handicapped me when it comes to my children.
Fewer words and more understanding words are needed with kids in their teen and pre-teen years.
“Please,” “Thank You,” and “How can I help?” are some of the most helpful things you can say. Phrases like, “I’m sorry,” “You’re right,” “I’m proud of you,” or “Let me think about it,” have more power than you think. Short, yes/no answers are almost always better than long “explanations” (aka “lectures.”)
Listening is much more important then lectures because we know from experience that we thought our parents’ opinion were archaic and out of touch.
Don’t believe me? Wait until you are talking to your kid (thinking you’re making a GREAT point) and then you notice their glazed-over look indicating all he hears is “wahwahwah.”
I believe my sister. I’m pretty sure I’ll sound like the Charlie Brown teacher to my kids too.