My children, and in particular my son love to watch television. Like most parents, I really can’t stand when their little faces are staring at the TV or the i-pad, non-responsive. But also like other parents while I prefer to take them outside to play or entertain them and teach them, many times I find myself between a rock and a hard place because I need to prepare breakfast and lunch to get them off to school, or dinner, add to the mix a screaming infant and I feel like the choice is made for me; and so they end up watching TV so I can attend to everything else.
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Yesterday though my husband and I made the decision that it is enough. The addiction to the electronics has gone way too far and so, like when someone is being weaned off of drugs, my almost 3 year old son was going through withdrawal. This morning in particular he came to me with his cute little face and his big grin “can I watch pleeeaasssee.” When my answer was not this morning, he answered me again “pleaaaassee.” “My love (trying hard not to give him a flat out no) we aren’t going to watch TV in the morning anymore, would you like me to make you some breakfast?” Ensue crying, screaming, pleading, stomping, pulling and everything in his power to get me to change my mind.
While my heart sank and my stomach lurched listening to him so upset, I know that while the next few days might be rocky, cleaning this from his system would be the best! To distract him from crying I sat down with his magnet tiles and started making a house. Suddenly, I heard a pause in the middle of the sobbing, and he looks at me and says “what are you making?” I told him a “tunnel.” I could feel his whole body language shift, he came over gently to me, let me wipe his tears and started to play with me. Within moments he was sitting contently on my lap, happily eating his breakfast, playing with me, and letting me give him some snuggles.
Part of active listening is being able to read in between the lines and to pay full attention to what another person is trying to communicate to us. With my son, as it is with many toddlers, they may not be able to communicate to us with words what it is that they want, but through their tone, actions, we as parents need to apply our active listening skills to give them the attention and get to the bottom of that they are trying to communicate.
It happens with toddlers but it also happens with big kids, teens and adults. Many times people try to communicate with us and we see and feel their expression but don’t take the time to really figure out what they are trying to tell us. In this case, my son wants to watch TV, not just because he likes the characters (which he does) but also because he is looking for stimulation. Something for him to be able to focus on, when I can’t give him that attention. As an adult and his mom if I can’t offer him that attention then I have the responsibility to help him figure out an alternative way to play while I am taking care of everything else I need to take care of.
Many times when our children wine and cry or beg or shout, it makes it really hard for me to want to listen to them and help them. I react to the way they are speaking to me. But active listening means that I don’t react to how my children are communicating to me, but that I read between the lines to figure out what they are trying to communicate to me.