Listen Now or Forever Hold Your Tongue

Put down the phone. Let the dishes marinate a little longer. Swallow what’s on the tip of your tongue and wait for it.

Wait for the still squeaky, sometimes whiny, always earnest voice of your child as he weaves another rambling tale.

In our house, it’s usually about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in cyber space. There’s many times I don’t even hear the story, telling him “just a minute,” or “mommy’s fixing dinner” until the moment has passed and he’s moved onto something else. Or, worse, accused me of not paying attention to him or always putting something before him (he has absolutely mastered the guilt trip).

I ask my first grader about school every day.

We go through his homework folder over dinner or the next morning at breakfast. I inquire about his silly drawings of a Thanksgiving turkey throwing up (there is no explanation for boys’ humor, ever, at any age), and insist I can read every word he’s clumsily written.

“Who did you sit beside at lunch today?”

“Nobody.”

He sits beside somebody because when I go to school for lunch, there’s kids crowded into every seat. They only get 20 minutes to eat, though, so lunch isn’t the social hour it used to be.

“What are you reading in small group this week?”

“I don’t remember.”

Class Nasir response. He will pull the most excruciatingly detailed memory about what he wore when he and Uncle Johnny took their bikes on an epic adventure across the creek six months ago, but he rarely remembers where he left his shoes the night before.

I usually don’t settle for the “I don’t knows” and “I don’t remembers,” insisting he tell me two or three tangible things about his day.

Or else I would be completely in the dark. The questions are an important way for him to know I am interested. I’m paying attention enough to know the names of his friends and the rotations of his daily activities.

Listening is the farthest thing from a parent’s autopilot.

Asking, insisting, reminding, goading…that is what parents do most of the day.

If not, no one would ever leave the house in time for school or work. There would be no homework to turn in. The refrigerator would be empty and the lawn a mess.

My first grader is having a total break-down here in the middle of a work function (Family Volunteer Day) he was attending with me. Recall what I said about Adaptability? We're still working on that. I tried to actively listen to what was upsetting him and allow him to work through it.

My first grader is having a total break-down here in the middle of a work function (Family Volunteer Day) he was attending with me. Recall what I said about Adaptability? We’re still working on that. I tried to actively listen to what was upsetting him and allow him to work through it.

Stopping to listen, actively listen and engage with a child when he is still willing to talk, will help create an environment of trust and mutual sharing.

Only when my son begins talking on his own do I get any real information.

Only when I listen am I fortunate enough to realize he’s sharing with me, sometimes even asking my advice.

Only when I stop and allow his tale to unravel am I able to respond with intuitive questions he will actually answer.

“…and then, mom, after the Turtles rescued April’s mom from the underground ship, Casey came and April was so happy to see him.”

“Who is Casey?”

His cheeks grow bright as if he’s spent hours outside on a sunny snow day.

“April’s boyfriend.”

“Do you know what that means?”

Among ripples of giggles, I discern the answer.

“He has a crush on her.”

Here we go.

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