Go ahead. Read the title again. Just let it sink in.
"She doesn't listen to me!" How many times to you hear adults say this about children?
Now I'll remind you the basic definitions of the words 'listen' and 'obey'.
Listen: 1. to pay attention to sound
2. to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration
3. to be alert to catch an expected sound
Obey: 1. to follow the commands or guidance of
2. to conform to or comply with
Most of the time, when I hear adults saying this about children they are referring to the fact that the child is not obeying. Most of the time, adults say this after they just told the child to do something, after giving a command (commonly with out the use of manners).
So they should really be saying, "She doesn't obey me!" Sounds kind of barbaric, right? Like they're talking about a dog. Is it really fair to expect a child to obey?
If my studies in child development have taught me anything, it's that expecting children to obey is never developmentally appropriate.
While I understand the desire for a child who obeys, (trust me-I really do. I have spend countless hours helping children do things they don't want to do), when we reflect on what this would mean for the development of that child's future to simply obey rules from authority, I think many of us would realize that we can imagine a brighter future for our children. Do you really want a child who obeys everyone who seems to have power, mindlessly? Or even obey people that they love when it doesn't feel right? (think about sexual consent). A culture of people who obey without thoughtful consideration is a recipe for disaster. The most successful people often break rules while creating their work. And many of the worlds most beloved social leaders disobey authority in their fight for a just world. If I do say so myself, what the world needs a fresh group of children with the intelligence to disobey.
I try, with out full success, to see every disobedience and disagreement from a child as evidence of their developing strength, sense of self, and self-respect.
Sometimes, when people adults say "He isn't listening!" They really do mean listening. A adults, we have something important to share with a child and they are not giving us thoughtful consideration. This happens in all communication. When I feel this happening with a child, I realize that I probably need to take a "moment break". To calm myself down and reflect more on the situation. If a child isn't hearing something I have to say, the way that I'm saying it needs to shift. It also may be a sign that the child doesn't feel heard. Sometimes adults expect children to listen to them, even when the child hasn't had a chance to be heard. A child is much more likely to cooperate with you if she feels felt, understood, and valued.
A few tips on talking so that children will listen:
- Get down on their level.
- Make eye contact.
- Ask them what they think/feel about the topic at hand.
- Welcome a differing opinion.
- Take responsibility for your request, use 'I messages' For example, "When your toys are on the ground, I step on them and it hurts. Please, put them on the shelf since you are done." instead of "Clean up your toys."
- Avoid shaming them for being uncooperative.
- Stay as calm and collected as possible.
- Provide them with empathy and compassion, so that they have the chance to offer it back to you.
So that's it for now.
Let's let clarity in language bring us into clarity in action.
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