Listening to Children

Closeup portrait of sleeping babyWritten by Donna McClintock, CCO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

My older brother just welcomed his first grandchild into the world — beautiful Eliza Kate. I’ve celebrated with his family as they have shared over 500 pictures on Facebook with those of us who do not live close by. You can see the love, adoration, and attentiveness to this baby in every picture. I am confident that every cry or whimper is heard and responded to by the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other loving adults surrounding this sweet baby girl.

As adults, we tend to listen intently to new babies and have no problem trusting that they will tell us when they are hungry, tired, hurting, or in need of comfort. However, there seems to be a gradual discounting of a child’s voice as she ages. We don’t continue to listen intently to what she is trying to communicate to us. Perhaps we get too busy or become too confident in our ability to just know what she needs without really listening to her.

Or perhaps we focus on training our child on the behavior that he exhibits and miss the point. He screams out, bursts into tears, is defiant, or loses that radiant smile that once graced his face. If your child is causing you stress, it might be that he is attempting to communicate something to you that he feels is not being heard. The solution begins with your resolve to really listen to the pain behind the action. If he cannot communicate with words, listen closely to his cry. Remember when you could tell a sad cry from a hungry cry? Just because he is a big boy now doesn’t mean that his cries are not coded.  Listen carefully. Observe. Step back. Watch how you act. Is your child trying to communicate that he needs you? Often our children’s behavior is more about us than about them.

There are times when parents should stop all the deafening noises that might be drowning out what their child is trying to say and focus on hearing her needs. This doesn’t mean that you excuse unacceptable behavior. If a six-year-old is hurting her three-year-old sister, that isn’t the time to just sit and listen. Adults must intervene. However, once that situation is handled, we have a responsibility to listen beyond the unacceptable behavior. So often we focus on what the child is doing wrong and fail to listen to the pain behind the behavior. If your child is acting out, there may be much more to the problem than her decision to be defiant. Listen to her actions as an older child just as intently as you listened to her cries as a newborn.

No one would be silly enough to think that a newborn baby cries just because he is mean, rude, or misbehaving. Crying is his way of communicating a need. As he gets older, perhaps making wrong choices, wearing a frown instead of a smile, or hitting his friends is communicating in the only way he knows how. Perhaps it is time for the adults in his life to stop and listen to his needs rather than spending so much energy focusing on his behavior.

We know anger is a mask for pain. I am of the opinion that repetitive, unacceptable behavior in children is often their way of getting our attention. Make sure you hear what they are trying to say to you. Lean in close and really listen.


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