Last night I had two examples as a dad on the importance of listening and hearing my children. The first was my oldest son at the dinner table. It wasn’t anything world changing, but he had a rough day at school. My wife and I sat listening to him vent about the day’s activities. We didn’t try to solve all the problems but did give advice. Mostly though, we just let him talk about his frustrations. By the time supper had ended life was pretty good for him. He had been heard and knew that we understood what was going on, even if we didn’t have concrete answers for him.
The second example wasn’t so easy. My littlest girl got up at about 12:30 a.m. and we did our routine of getting a drink and sitting in the chair for a few minutes. And then things got a little tough.
At the moment a part of her bedtime routine is to spend a few minutes in bed with us and then she will say, “I’m ready for bed.” But at 12:30 she wanted to get into bed before she went back to her room. I wanted to make sure that my wife got a good nights sleep, so I told her we would just go to bed or sit in the chair for a few extra minutes. She wasn’t up to that and started throwing a fit about how she wanted to “sleep with mom.”
Somewhere I had read that the best thing to do with a child who is throwing a fit is to ignore them. But if you have a strong-willed child you know that they will pay any consequence. And even as hard as I tried, she just continued to throw a fit and scream about how she wanted to sleep in our bed. Trying to keep my cool, I reinforce that she was being disrespectful by being loud and waking other people up. That didn’t help.
After about 30 minutes or so she moved from sitting on the chair to sitting next to me trying to gain my attention. I was getting frustrated but had one of those father moments where you try something totally new because nothing else was working; I turned to her and said, “I hear you but you are throwing a fit and that is not right.”
As soon as I had replied that I had heard her, she quieted down and sat next to me. I again tried to persuade her that she didn’t need to lay down in our bed this late at night. But that set her off. I again replied that I heard her, and she settled down. (A side note here: we have been reinforcing saying please and thank you.) Well, after a few minutes she asked if she could lay down with a please attached. Yes, I gave in, and within five minutes of laying down she was ready to go to bed and she slept through the rest of the night.
I had never responded with the I hear you comment to her before, and as I came back to bed after getting her snug in her bed I started to think about a piece of literature that reinforce the importance of hearing children.
So I’m going to go English teacher here. If you’ve ever read the book The Outsiders then you know that there is a powerful moment in the book when Johnny is talking about his parents. I don’t have a copy of the book with me right now so I will paraphrase, but he is telling Ponyboy that the worst thing that his parents do to him is ignore him. Johnny can take the beatings, but when his parents act as if he is not there, it hurts him.
It’s not just our children or students but everybody wants to be heard. They want to know that they have a voice and that voice gives them solid ground to stand on in this world. When our voice is actually heard, it means we are known. We know we matter. Life will sometimes reinforce the importance of things through my children. Yesterday it was how important it is to hear individuals around us whether they are our children, our students, or anyone who might need us to hear them.