“You aren’t listening to me.” “Please listen.” “Listen to what I am saying.”
Most parents have uttered, or at the very least thought, one of these phrases or something similar at some point. It’s usually said in frustration.
However, when we say this to our children, we don’t really mean that they aren’t listening to us. While that sometimes is the case, a quick look in their eye or a gentle touch of their hand is generally sufficient to catch the attention of a person who didn’t hear us. What we really mean is that our child isn’t doing what we say. On the surface, it’s an artifact of poor communication. On a deeper level, it’s an issue of control.
When we stop to examine why it is that we want our children to do what we say, we’ll find that there are varied reasons. For some, it is a genuine attempt to control another person – one who is smaller and probably can’t do much about it. Even that has deeper levels – often resulting from a parent’s lack of personal empowerment in childhood or of feeling inequal in his/her own adult relationships.
Generally speaking though, most parents have much simpler reasons if they stop to examine them. It may be convenience, fatigue, hunger, a desire to feel respected, or one of many others. Demanding compliance through poor communication doesn’t rectify the situation. In fact, it’s most likely to exacerbate the frustrated feelings of all parties involved, because it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter – the needs of both parties.
When we wish our children would just do as we say, we need to consider the needs of both parent and child. Whether the parent is tired and needs a break or has a need to feel respected, understanding what we really want is an important first step to asking for it. Understanding what is going on with our child (anything from being tired to a lack of impulse control and beyond) is vital to finding a solution that will work for everyone and meet our own neglected needs.