Standing in the video section of the market, I could clearly hear the animated conversation in the next aisle. A mother and her teenage son were selecting a film together when her son said, “It’s not fair. … I don’t even have time to watch a movie tonight; the teachers give us too much homework.” “Well, you don’t have that much,” mom replied, focused intently on scanning the movie titles. “Yes I do, I don’t even have time to do anything after school,” the boy retorted. “You have plenty of time if you would just focus a little more. You just need to get organized,” mom quipped, from the next aisle. Their conversation was interrupted when a family friend approached them. The mother excitedly asked, “How are you?” Her friend enthusiastically replied, “Great. It’s been such a long time!” then turned to the boy. “And how do you like ninth grade?” The mother replied, “He’s so happy to be in high school.” The friend then noticed that the boy was wearing a football jersey and asked, “Do you play football?” “Yes, he does,” replied the mother, “and it’s all we hear about every night at the dinner table. Football. Football. Football.” As I rounded the corner, I saw the dejected look on the boy’s face as he shrugged off what seemed to be another in a series of failures to be heard. He was disappointed, discounted and disconnected.Though her conversation may have seemed seem innocuous, this mother’s responses – including minimizing, advice-giving, reprimanding and talking for her child – are just a few of the ways we parents can damage our relationship and unwittingly disconnect from our children. When children don’t feel heard by their parents, their self-esteem suffers. In response, they tend to either increase the noise level or sulk away. If you master the art of “deep listening,” you can dramatically increase your child’s level of cooperation, help decrease misbehavior, motivate your child to listen better, and build your child’s self-esteem.Begin to reap the benefits of the rich connection that deep listening brings by practicing these steps:Step One: Before you approach your children, take a moment to affirm your desire to use this moment to really listen … to hear the meaning behind their words. Step Two: Give all your focused attention. Put down your cup of coffee. Let go of the world situation, your goal for your child, or what you’re going to say next and give 100 percent of your attention to your child. Step Three: Talk sparingly. Listen 80 percent of the time and talk only 20 percent. When you rearrange the letters in the word L-I-S-T-E-N, you get S-I-L-E-N-T. Good listening requires silence. One mom reported, “When my children arrived home from school, I sat down, made eye contact, and listened to the details of their day, consciously choosing to talk very little. It was amazing how much they had to say when I made the ‘space.'” Vickie Falcone, YouthZone director of programming, has been teaching parents how to create households that are respectful, cooperative, and empowering for more than 14 years.
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