If I were limited to one recommendation that would improve relationships between parent and child, it would be listen to learn. Listening and valuing young people’s feelings and ideas is what promotes the ability of parents to effectively communicate with them.Unfortunately, many parents fear that children will not make responsible decisions, so lecturing begins. This implies that the parents do not have faith in their children’s decision-making abilities. After awhile, children lose faith in themselves, in their own inner knowing. If young people do not have faith in themselves, then the parents’ faith in them decreases even more, and the lecturing begins again.
Even well-intentioned lectures convey the subtle, negative message that what the youngster has done is wrong or not good enough. This often results in defensiveness and resistance, especially with adolescents. If telling worked, young people would do exactly what they were told. Trying to persuade adolescents by using reason often has little effect; they know they are right. In addition, the youngster sees this as, “My parents are trying to control me again!” An adage when dealing with young people is not to say more than thirteen words at a time, and with a teenager, make it twelve.
Since young people are sensitive about being told what to do, yet parental help is perfectly appropriate, think of suggestions as questions: “What do you think about… ?” “Have you thought of… ?” “Would you consider… ?”
A habit is most easily changed by replacing it with another. When there is a temptation to tell, redirect it by thinking of the question, “Will the results be better if I tell or ask?” Another approach is to follow Harry S Truman’s approach: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want, and then advise them to do it.”
The best approach of all is to listen to learn.
Listen to learn means not inserting one’s opinion and not judging what the youngster says while the youngster is speaking. Parents have a natural tendency to approve or disapprove of young people’s statements. Parents’ first reaction is to evaluate from their own point of view and then approve or disapprove of what the youngster says. This is listening autobiographically. The tendency to make evaluations is common in almost all conversations, but it is much more intense when feelings are involved. An easy strategy for replacing this tendency of listening autobiographically is to cultivate the habit of listening to learn.
Listening in anticipation of what a child will say is also a habit to be broken. Listening in anticipation encourages interruptions. A child wants to be acknowledged and does not wish to feel that you know what he is about to say. A parent who listens well acknowledges the youngster’s feelings and opinions. In addition, listening well can be a model for adolescents, who often do not listen well.
“Zip the lip” is extremely difficult for a parent, but it is the surest way to improve communication and understanding. No great insight ever enters the mind through an open mouth. It is important to let young people know that a parent is willing to listen, even though it may not result in agreement. A simple, “Talk to me about it” is an effective start toward dialogue. Just use the most effective sales principle: Inquiry precedes advocacy.
Dr. Marvin Marshall is an American educator, writer, and lecturer. He is the author of Discipline Without Stress, Punishments or Rewards – How Teachers and Parents Promote Responsibility & Learning and Parenting Without Stress – How to Raise Responsible Kids While Keeping a Life of Your Own. Visit http://www.MarvinMarshall.com for more information.