I remember it like yesterday, the stunned look on my mother’s face, after my nephew, around five at the time, dismissed her Saturday lunch as dog food.
The boy was a picky eater. If it wasn’t from his short list of approved homemade food or didn’t come from his two fast food joints of choice, then it was a losing battle for the adult. Grandma, on the other hand, was stuck on combining old school notions that included children should be seen more than heard and choice and preference is the preserve of advanced years.
So, her idea of a nice Saturday afternoon with the grandchild was a home cooked meal before indulging in PBS and, then a quick run to the kids’ department at Bloomingdales. Rollicking, right?
She’d settled on “comfort food” – or at least that what she thought of her mac and cheese, corned beef combination. The little guy? He came into the kitchen, took a look at the packed plate, and declared that he would not eat dog food. His declaration, after planting a hand over his mouth, was: “I can’t eat that. That’s dog food.”
Well, her mouth rounded to a big O. As for me, I was cackling and defending the young man – and engaging in a bit of I told you so.
Grandma was shocked, not just at the refusal to eat, but at the frankness in the statement. I reminded her that children have opinions, too, and they ought to be encouraged to express them. I also told her listening is a two-way street, and that a child doesn’t need to attain a certain magical age to have his point of view heard and respected.
After all, children begin their lives with us listening to them. In those first weeks and months, we listen to the cries and coos and learn what they indicate. We then listen to the babbling, and, at the first sound, we can tell the uninitiated exactly what it means.
Why then do we stop listening to our children as the toddler years segue into adolescence and then listen even less as they grow into tweens and teens?
It could be that old (and foolish) saying, “children should be seen and not heard.” I heard that a lot growing up, from many quarters. A particular woman would admonish me almost daily, “keep your tongue betwixt your teeth.” Both she and I knew she was wasting her breath.
I think that notion, about seeing but not hearing kids, has helped to create an unfriendly culture for children. We’re constantly telling them to be quiet – at home, in church when people expect us to rush outside with an interactive child, and at school – perhaps because that’s what we know, because we don’t have the answers, and, truth be told, because some are ill-equipped to deal with actually conversing and reasoning with a child.
And that’s why we spend so much time talking about children and at children rather than to children. And, invariably, we end up scratching our collective head wondering, quite conceitedly, why they (not us) have it so wrong.
A Familyeducation.com article sums up what should be common sense. It indicates that we should listen to our children because that’s how we’ll know what’s going on in their heads; because listening builds strong relationships; because it shows respect; it’s the first step in problem-solving; it gives perspective; and a child who is listened to will listen.
I have a cousin who includes among terms of endearment for me “Children’s Melee.” She gave me that moniker because of how I take the time to listen to her girls, even when they take me around the world to illustrate a single point. But in those moments, you glean so much about what’s going on in a child’s world and how they feel about their place in it.
In any event, my eldest doesn’t let people get away with not listening to him, even if he has to make a zillion attempts and pout and complain to get the attention he knows he deserves. As for my little one, he, too, has a way of getting your attention, even if it means covering your mouth or demanding that you “be quiet.”
… And if I wasn’t listening the other day, I would not have heard my soon-to-be eight year old imparting financial and social wisdom to his cousin, a junior by a year plus.
They were reasoning about who had what and how and why they would acquire more when my son said, “You don’t see the older people have the most money, and you don’t see the men use the money to attract the sexy girls?”
“Yeah!” came the affirmation from the younger one.
“Okay, hold up,” I interrupted, “let’s talk about this…”
Dad would later tell me I was being idealistic and that the boy was right. But that’s a different story altogether. The moral of today’s article is listen.