ArtWithTammy/Pixabay

Source: ArtWithTammy/Pixabay

How often has one of your children said, “Mom, you’re not listening!”?

How can mothers and fathers respond in meaningful ways when they don’t listen, when they are distracted or primarily intent on getting their own message heard?

It’s not easy to listen to your six-year-old rant on about some new bug or worm he discovered or remain engaged with your teen who is focused on telling you, possibly for the third time, about a disagreement she had with her best friend—when it’s your agenda to clear the table, bring your laundry to the washing machine, put your toys away, or clean up your room. Listening, however, offers an opportunity to know your child and enhance your bond.

“One of the great pleasures of being a parent is getting to grow up a second time, led by a small person with a sensibility that is quite different from yours,” writes Dr. Wendy Mogel in her new book, Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say it, and When to Listen.

 “Children give parents a chance to explore majestic and mysterious places, if parents, no matter what their family configuration, can learn how to listen and respond.”

When you speak to your child of any age, adjustment to your tone, the emotional quality of your voice, and your body language “conveys your attitude, for example, preachy, pleased, condescending, curious, bored, nervous, or impressed,” notes Mogel. Her “lessons” are broken down for parents of children from infancy through adolescence across a wide array of issues that are sure to arise.

Addressing the Hard Topics

Mogel is at her best tackling the difficult topics—alerting you to what your young child or teen might say or ask about death, sex and money, for example. She offers the words to answer those sticky questions or correct misinformation at children’s different stages. Her helpful pointers include:

1. Answer questions as your child asks them. You may be asked “What’s sex?” one day, then “What’s sexy?” another day or the perennial, “Where do babies come from?” or, “How to babies get out of your stomach?” In response to the first question, you will want to explain that “sex” has at least three definitions.

2. You don’t have to give a perfect answer to every question. You can revisit an answer by saying, “I thought about what we talked about yesterday and want to add to that,” or “I have another idea.”

3. The key as a parent is not to “download all the information at once” because your child probably won’t retain or understand it all.  

4. A child’s understanding of your response may be quite different from yours, particularly around frightening or traumatic events.

5. What your child asks may not be what’s really on his mind. Be patient; he or she will come back to you at some point if you are calm and curious and patient.

6. Use words your child will understand.

Money Conversations

“Conversations with children about money are difficult on many levels and at every age. It’s hard to say no to your children,” admits Mogel. Even if you have money, she says, “it’s hard to know how to create a framework for spending that will keep your child grounded and appreciative.”

When it comes to “asks,” it seems children often want something—be it the latest toy or electronic gadget or game. You know, “the one that everybody has” as your child will remind you. Typically that’s a good time, Mogel suggests, to bring up the family budget, whether or not you have one: to discuss saving for emergencies, for birthdays or vacations, giving to charity, ways he or she can earn money to make the purchase—be it doing chores at home or helping a neighbor, friends or relative.

What? You Haven’t Been Listening

Don’t worry if you didn’t do too well listening and responding early on in your child’s life. Voice Lessons also guides you through the snarky teens years when your adolescent might tell you that you don’t know anything. If you listen to Mogel, chances are you will be able to capitalize on the many opportunities you have to connect with your teens and address the questions and conflicts that are part of growing up—from eating habits and dress to curfews, to name just a few.

Some of Dr. Mogel’s most valuable lessons are for conversations you will have with your children’s caregivers, teachers and coaches. Listen, because you don’t want to be labeled “difficult.” That label, she points out, is “very hard to shed.”

There is no magic formula to make parenting easier. “All you have is your voice. But if you know how to use it, your voice is all you need,” Mogel insists.

Copyright @2018 by Susan Newman

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