I talk with my kids a lot. Sometimes I’m hitting all the parenting highs — encouraging them and chatting with them and having lively discussions and really listening to them as people. And sometimes I’m yelling or shouting or saying things I’ll regret the minute they come out (I didn’t say I did this well, I just said I did it a lot). I try, but I’m pretty sure that every single day I screw up at least once when it comes to communicating with my kids. But I am noticing one thing that helps us all listen to each other a little better.
I actually first learned this when I was in high school, working as a lifeguard at a water park. It’s the only thing I remember from my training…which is unfortunate, actually, because if you have a heart attack around me I’m going to be helpless. I’ve completely forgotten CPR and mouth-to-mouth and all the other first aid we had to practice. But I do remember this one thing they impressed on us for when we were talking to guests at the park.
Take off your sunglasses.
That’s it. That’s what I took away from that entire job (well, that and a very meager start on a savings account). But it’s stuck with me since then and I try to do it when I talk to my kids, and their teachers after school, and my friends, and anyone else. I take off my sunglasses.
Of course, that’s not really the point. I understand sometimes you’re inside and not wearing sunglasses because you’re not Jack Nicholson, but the idea is the same. Eye contact.
It all sounds so simple, but it’s hard because no one here waits for me to sit down and get ready for a nice long heart-to-heart. They want to talk and show me things while I’m washing dishes or making dinner or (most often) when I really have to go to the bathroom. But it makes such a difference to stop and look someone in the eyes when they’re talking. I remember more of what they say. I’m less likely to say “yes” just to get someone to stop pestering me. If it’s something I can’t say “yes” to, I’m more likely to have paid attention and I’m often able to suggest an alternative. Shockingly…they remember more of what I say, too, and are more likely to follow through with a request from me before I’ve asked five times and resorted to yelling and shrieking because no one is listening.
“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” — Catherine M. Wallace
So that’s what I’m trying to do. Listen, and make eye contact.
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