We all need someone to talk to. Are you listening in a way that will encourage your child to talk?
Fifteen-year-old Chaya has a problem: She doesn’t like her English teacher. Here’s what she tells her mother: “Mrs. Gray is so mean and unfair! She gives good marks to her favorite students and bad marks to the girls she doesn’t like. And she doesn’t like me at all! She laughs at me when I walk into the room.”
Let’s say Chaya has six mothers. Here’s how each of them responds to her tirade:
Mother #1: The Discounter
“I heard Mrs. Gray is an excellent teacher!”
The Discounter makes light of, or completely disregards, the speaker’s words. Children with Discounter parents eventually learn to stop sharing their true feelings with them.
Mother #2: The Educator
“That’s not the way to speak about a teacher, Chaya. I’m sure Mrs. Gray is very nice, and if she isn’t, then you’re speaking lashon hara. Just work hard in her class, and I’m sure you’ll get good marks.”
The Educator never misses an opportunity to teach and preach. She quickly shows her child where she’s going wrong and what she needs to do about it. Children with Educator parents eventually learn to stop telling them things.
Mother #3: The Psychoanalyst
“Whoa... someone’s in a bad mood! Did you have a rough day today?”
The Psychoanalyst can “read between the lines.” Instead of responding directly to conversation, she goes for the underlying motives. Why would her child be saying these things? It can’t be whatever the child said it was — it must be something deeper. The Psychoanalyst usually knows what’s really bothering her youngster and says so.
But a child might just want to be heard — not analyzed. She wants a response to her complaints, not a diagnosis. Children with Psychoanalyst parents eventually learn to stop sharing their problems with them.
Mother #4: The Critic
You have no idea what Mrs. Gray has to deal with all day. You really don’t have a clue as to why she gives the marks she gives, and yet you’ve decided that she’s unfair! Honestly, you girls have no respect for your teachers, and it’s a real shame.”
The Critic complains about what her child says. She’ll announce that the child has the wrong attitude, or is looking at things the wrong way, or isn’t smart enough to understand a situation. The Critic finds fault with the child’s communication in any number of ways: what it contains, what it’s about, how it’s expressed or when it’s expressed.
Children with Critic parents eventually learn to stop sharing anything with them.
Mother #5: The Narcissist
“You think Mrs. Gray is a bad teacher? You should have met my English teacher, Mrs. Sanders! Now, there was a mean lady. She actually announced who her favorites were and when she didn’t like you — she told you so to your face! That woman despised me! I couldn’t stand English because of that teacher. Wow, it’s like it was just yesterday...”
The Narcissist can turn any conversation around so that it’s all about her. Everything the child says reminds her of something to do with her own experiences, thoughts, or feelings. The child’s feelings are never acknowledged or validated, as they are of seemingly little interest to the Narcissist.
Eventually, children of Narcissistic parents find other people with whom to share their thoughts and feelings.
Mother #6: The Emotion Coach
“Wow. That sounds so frustrating! It’s awful when you can’t trust a teacher to be fair, and even worse when you feel that a teacher doesn’t like you for no reason. Have you found any coping strategies to help you get by? Do you want my help on this, or are you doing okay on your own?”
The Emotion Coach accepts her child’s feelings without judgment. She empathizes with her child’s pain, and only afterward, helps the child look for solutions to her problems. The Emotion Coach provides both emotional support and education.
Feeling understood, accepted, and supported, children return again and again to share their struggles with their Emotion Coaching parents. They’re willing to listen and learn from them, seeing them as caring and wise resources. The closeness they build with these parents tends to last a lifetime.
What’s your listening style?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 684)
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