Words Can Heal


Mindful Listening with Children

Prior to a mindful listening workshop I gave in Chicago, a mother, who introduced herself as “Clair” took me aside to tell me why she wanted to improve her ability to listen. She was terribly hurt when she found out that her 11-year-old son was experiencing problems at school. Apparently, another child in the 6th grade was teasing him on a regular basis. He was humiliating her son for his ability to get along well with the teachers – for being a teacher’s pet, so to speak. Clair’s son was not very good at sports, which gave this bully another reason to chide him.

Clair hadn’t noticed that her son was depressed or mopey – sure signs of trouble in school. What really hurt Clair was that her son was sharing his miseries with “someone else” – Mrs. Loring, his soccer coach. At first, she was angry with the coach and suspected something fishy. But later, after observing the way Mrs. Loring interacted and listened to the children, Clair understood why her son shared these problems with his coach.

Clair and her husband were good parents. They were always there to offer their children advice and encouragement. When things would go wrong, they always jumped in with ways to “fix” the problems. If they noticed their child a bit down after losing a game or not getting an invitation to a birthday party, Clair and her husband would get them to think about something else. They would make comments like “Oh don’t worry, you played very well. You know the game better than that referee!” or “Cheer up, there will be other parties!” This is why Clair was so upset…if only her son had talked to her first she could have given him a dozen ways to deal with this bully!

Therein was the difference between Clair and the soccer coach. Mrs. Loring watched the children on the team carefully. She could always tell when somebody had a bad day. Occasionally Mrs. Loring would take a child aside and ask them how they were doing. Then she would say nothing. She watched them in silence, attentive silence. After a couple minutes the child would invariably mention another child’s name or bring up a situation that happened. More silence… Then the child would start to cry or tell more about what happened. After she heard most of the story (and this usually takes only about 10 minutes) Mrs. Loring would ask the child, “What do you think you should do? Let’s share some ideas.” No advice unless asked. No denying that the child’s experience really hurt. Just trying to “get into the child’s movie” and understand what they’re feeling.

Probably the most painful part was that Clair’s son felt “safe” speaking to Mrs. Loring more than her. He trusted that Mrs. Loring would not judge or advise him, but would just listen. As parents, listening to ourselves is the hardest thing to do. Less is sometimes more. Our words (or lack of words!) can strengthen the connection between ourselves and our children. Hearing our child’s solutions to problems first, rather than feeding them the answers all the time, will help them be better problem solvers as adults. Plus, they will feel better about listening to you.

Source: By Rebecca Shafir author of The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction. Visit www.WordsCanHeal.org for more ideas on how to heal with words. And spread the word! Send this message out today -- together we can make a difference!

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