Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Just a minute, sweetie

December 2, 2010

How much longer, Mom?

I’m not an idiot. I know it’s not always possible to drop what you’re doing to listen to your kids. But let’s be honest: not many of us do open-heart surgery or negotiate international crises at home. So when our kids need to talk, we could take a break and focus on them if we chose to. But most of the time we don’t. We keep doing whatever we’re doing and shift into an unconscious auto-listening/responding thing (“Uh, huh. Uh, huh”). If you feel like it’s more pressing to fold laundry or do your online banking instead of having a real conversation with your teen, that’s your choice, but at least be upfront about it. Auto-listening is a bad idea for these reasons:

  1. It’s not healthy. In a healthy relationship trust and respect have to flow in both directions. Want your kids to respect you? Then you’ve got to respect them. Auto-listening is disrespectful.
  2. It’s not fooling them. Even toddlers have been known to turn Mom or Dad’s head to get their attention. If an 18 month old knows that no eye contact means you’re preoccupied, how can you hope to fake it with a teen? And why would you want to?
  3. You’re showing that “other things” are more important to you than your kids. You and I know you don’t really feel that way, so why would you send that message? Your teens don’t get 100% attention from their teachers or their friends. Let them at least get it from you while you’re having a conversation.
  4. Auto-listening is poor modeling. Our kids don’t listen to us for a couple of reasons: a) they’re teens and they need to shut you out so they can build their own identity, and b) we haven’t spent enough time showing them what active listening looks and feels like. You can’t do much about their developmental need to shut you out, but when you make a real effort to listen to your kids (with eye contact, 100% of your attention, and an open heart and mind) you’re setting the stage for them to listen more attentively to you and others.

Don’t assume an increase in listening is going to increase the common ground between you and your teen. (We’re working on communication here, not cloning.) But if you focus more on listening you can reasonably predict there’ll be less confusion about what was actually said in a conversation. That means less arguments studded with gems like: “I never said that!” “You never said that!” and “What are you talking about?!”

Nothing is more important than showing your son or daughter that you’re always available to help, guide, and support. If your kid is troubled enough to come to you, this is when you need to be great. Personally, I can’t imagine anything that would take precedent over my desire to help my child. But if you’re truly involved in something that can’t be interrupted (even for 5 minutes) then at least stop momentarily, make eye contact, and say, “Sweetheart, I really want to hear this, and you deserve 100% of my attention, but I can’t give you that right now. Can this wait until 8 o’clock*?” (NOTE: You can’t use this excuse very often otherwise your kid is going to think “You never have time for me.”)

*When 8 o’clock arrives, don’t forget your promise. Don’t leave it up to your child to restart the conversation. It’s up to you to knock on your child’s door and say, “I’m ready to listen now. Is this a good time for you?” The intensity of the emotion that brought your son and daughter to you initially may have passed. You may have missed an opportunity to help. But by coming around as you said you would, you’re showing your child that you really do care. And hopefully, they’ll give you other opportunities to focus on them.

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Of course I’m listening! What did you say?

September 1, 2009

   

So connected and yet not

 

 

So connected and yet not

Good ol’ Mr. Rogers knew what he was singing about when he was putting on his sneakers: “I mean I might just make mistakes if I should have to hurry up and so I like to take my time.” When he was home, I’m sure his kids got at least the same level of attention as he gave his shoe laces. To his credit, that guy could really focus on one thing at a time.

Recently I’m becoming more aware of how cranky, stressed and distracted I get when I try to do a whole lot of stuff at once. So I’m trying to slow down and zero in. But it ain’t easy. Admittedly, as I’m writing this I’m also picking remnants of chewed almonds from in between my teeth, answering email, tweeting, and squinting at this sentence as I wonder how long it will take for the eyeglasses I left in our hotel room in Elko, NV to make their way back here. (Soon please!)

Tweens and teens constantly email me for advice. They say their parents “don’t listen.” Parents tell me the same thing about teens. We’d all like to improve parent-teen communication but we can’t do our part when we’re busy with six other things or even one other thing. (Same goes for improving communication between you and your honey-pie.)

Obviously you can’t always drop everything to listen to your child. But let’s be honest: not many of us do open-heart surgery or negotiate international crises at home. So when our kids want to talk, need to talk, we could take a break and focus on them if we choose to. But most of the time we keep doing whatever we’re doing and shift into an unconscious auto-listening thing (“Uh, huh. Uh, huh”).

Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

  1. It’s disrespectful. In a healthy relationship trust and respect have to flow in both directions. Want your kids to respect you? Then you’ve got to respect them. Auto-listening is rude.
  2. It’s not fooling them. Even toddlers have been known to turn Mom’s or Dad’s head to get their attention. If an 18 month old knows that no eye contact means you’re preoccupied, how can you hope to fake it with a teen? And why would you want to?
  3. You’re showing them that “other things” are more important to you than they are. You don’t really feel that way so why send that message? Your teens probably don’t get 100% attention from their teachers or their friends. Let them at least get it from you while you’re having a conversation.
  4. Auto-listening is poor modeling. Our kids don’t listen to us for a couple of reasons: a) they’re teens and they need to at least pretend to shut us out so they can build their own identity and  b) we haven’t spent enough time showing them what active listening looks and feels like. You can’t do much about their developmental need to shut you out, but making a real effort to listen (with eye contact, 100% of your attention, and an open heart and mind) teaches them to listen more attentively to you and others.

WARNING! Don’t assume an increase in real listening will eradicate all disharmony between you and your teen. (We’re working on communication here, not miracles.) But if you focus more on listening you can reasonably predict there’ll be less confusion about what was actually said in a conversation. That means less arguments studded with gems like: “I never said that!” “You never said that!” and “What are you talking about?!”

That’d be cool, right? Hello? Anyone there?

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 7:27 pm
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