Recently a client of mine was walking in San Francisco with her young son, who asked if he could go into a barber shop to get his hair cut. She tried to convince her boy that his dad would cut his hair when they got home, but he had his heart set on doing it in the city. “Why not?” she decided.
They went in, and a very sweet barber asked the boy how he’d like his hair cut. And then he cut it.
As soon as they left the shop, the boy burst into tears. “He didn’t cut it it the way I wanted! I kept trying to tell him, but he was talking all the time. He didn’t listen to me!” The boy buried his head in his mom’s belly and cried more. “Tell Dad to fix it when we get home.” The tears kept flowing. Slowly, they made their way back to the car and headed home. For the first 10 minutes of the ride, the boy continued to cry, and Mom just listened. And then something amazing happened! The boy quieted, his tone switched back to its normal cheerful pitch, and he asked to put on music, which he sang along to for the rest of the ride.
When he got home, he did ask Dad to fix his hair, but he asked with a smile and was able to calmly explain what had happened. The rest of the evening this little boy was a joy.
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Listen To Emotions, Even Those Coming From a Child
The first part of this scenario is familiar to us all – a child who is disappointed, angry or upset at things not going his way. But what most of us don’t realize is that the expression of those feelings is the body’s innate path to healing. When we learn to harness that power in our parenting, we gain more cooperation from our kids. The simple act of listening leads parents to experience more play and laughter, and less yelling and confrontation.
There is very little understanding, even among professionals, of the power of the emotional release process. Most of us are under the misconception that if we quiet our upset children, we have fixed the problem. But the problem, it turns out, lies not in the crying or screaming or tantruming, though there are times when we parents just can’t listen.
The core of the problem lies in the pent up feelings that are driving the troubling behaviors in the first place.
Effects of Not Listening
If my client hadn’t listened, but instead had tried to stop her son’s meltdown by searching high and low for a way to fix the haircut right away, or by bribing him with a treat, or by threatening him with a punishment if he didn’t pull himself together, their afternoon would have ended up very differently.
We are all familiar with the game of Whack-a-mole where we somehow calm our child down from one upset only to be confronted by another meltdown minutes later. It wears us down and shakes our confidence as parents. Family life can look different. So many of us parents are frustrated by our lack of control over our children’s behaviors. But if we can shift our goal from control to connection, amazing shifts happen!
Try it! The next time your child is upset, just listen. No fixing, bribing, shaming or threatening. Move in close and offer yourself, your love, your attention. You will find that once your child is done with his upset, his unworkable behaviors will resolve on their own. Like magic. Only not!