April 26, 2013

The Importance of Listening to Your Child

We got a call  from my children's principle last week to tell us that one of our children had punched another kid in the face and knocked out their tooth. Though the teachers suspected the kid's tooth was already loose.

I was stunned.

And mortified.

Yes this child has acted out before and has had some trouble with tantrums at school, but it had been a long time since we've had an incident, and they had certainly never hurt someone before! I could not really fathom that they would just... punch someone!

I thought for sure they would get sent home from school at the very least, or even suspended or something. But the principle assured my husband that they had everything under control at the school and that they had just wanted to let us know about the incident.

I confess I thought it odd that they weren't taking some sort of serious action against our child. And what about the other kid? How would their parents react?

Hubby and I talked on the phone and worked out how we would handle it and what the consequences would be. We were both feeling incredibly worried at this point.

For the rest of day I felt like the world's worst mom.

Where did we go wrong? What have I done to my child that would create this kind of lack of control or caring for another person? Thoughts and questions swirled through my brain for the whole afternoon as I struggled with my epic parenting failure.

But I had been taught more by example than by words from my own parents, that every child has a right to explain their side of the story. My parents always listened to us.

So when my children came home, I called in this child and asked them to explain what had happened.

This was their version.

A kid behind them was trying to pull on my child's hat (a winter beanie) while they were standing in line. Because of this my child turned around and pretty soon they were goofing off and pretend karate chopping each other. As my child went to swipe the other kid with their hat, a miscalculation in the heat and fun of the moment caused my child to accidentally hit the other child in the mouth with his hand instead of the hat.

The story was told without hesitation or embellishment. I knew they were telling the truth. My children are still young enough that it's obvious when they lie. They hesitate because they know lying is wrong, they won't look at me, and they take time to think about what they are going to say.

Thankfully we have taught our children to be honest so lying is not a big issue.

It had started to be at one point with one child, until it occurred to me that this child was afraid of getting in trouble. They were extra sensitive to that and so would come up with stories to get out of trouble.

We worked out ways of clearing that up so now we don't have a problem with it.

Anyway, as I listened to my child's story, I realized that it had merely been an accident caused by two children who were goofing off together.

When I asked if the other child was upset that their tooth was knocked out, my child said no, they were actually happy because the tooth was loose and they really wanted it out so they could put it under their pillow for the tooth fairy.


That was sure a whole different take on my child "punching someone in the mouth and knocking their tooth out" and explained why the other child wasn't upset or that my child wasn't in trouble at school.

My relief was palpable.

I called Hubby right away and explained what really happened, his relief was obvious as well. We still talked to our child about how they shouldn't have tried to hit the other kid with their hat, but the consequences we had planned on earlier were no longer necessary.

I can't help but think how important it is that our children can trust us.

And especially that they can trust that we will trust them.

Each child is different and there is certainly not a "one plan fits all" for building that trust or even in some cases, honesty. But I truly believe that if we will take the time to listen and try to understand, children will want to tell you the truth, even if it isn't always good.

Giving your child a chance to explain their point of view is key. Because so often, their understanding is limited and their viewpoint is vastly different from ours.

I'm so glad I listened.

10 super cool people speak:

Meagan said...

A great example of listening. Nice work Serene. I'll try to remember this next time someone is in "trouble".

Jamie said...

Just curious - what worked for your sensitive one? My 6 yr old daughter is like that...

Serene is my name, not my life! said...

Jamie, well I am certainly no expert and maybe part of it is a 6-year old thing since that's how old my child was when they took up lying. Since every child is different I think the hardest part is trying to pinpoint what is triggering the lying.

In the case of my child, I honestly believe they were "afraid" of being in trouble. And I confess, my first reaction to the lying was to punish harder, to give MORE consequences to show them my disappointment and frustration. In my efforts to "raise a good, honest child" I was trying to be stop the behavior in the wrong way.

It quickly became quite clear to me that that was the wrong approach for this particular child.

It took time and effort, but whenever I knew they were lying, I had to get down on their level, look them in the eye, speak softly and lovingly, and often times, assure them that they wouldn't be in trouble, but I really needed to know the truth.

At first they still wouldn't tell the truth, but instead of getting mad, I would just walk away and not talk about it anymore. Soon, when I would explain that they wouldn't be in trouble, they would finally tell me the truth. Sometimes there were things that I normally would have given a consequence for but instead I would really focus on and praise them for the fact that they told me the truth, and gently remind them not to do whatever they had done again.

I think once that security of knowing that... I don't know, they would still be loved? Or maybe... that mom wouldn't jump on them for every little thing? Or whatever their little minds and hearts were thinking and feeling, slowly the lying started to ebb away, and so did some of the bad behavior.

It certainly wasn't an over-night deal, and I goofed up plenty of times, but after a while of backing off and just showing them love and understanding, they started to open up a lot more.

In this child's case, harder was NOT better.

Obviously your child's situation could be very different, but that's how it was with mine.

Good luck! I know it can be frustrating!

Sarbear said...

I like your point about listening to the child. I wonder why the school didn't do that as well at first since it seems so innocent and instead called you and told you that your child punched another child. Way different connotation there.

We have had two instances where I have gotten calls from the school about an incident and after investigating it and talking to my child it seemed that it was blown out of proportion.

On example was that I was called and told my child spit on another child. Think of the connotation. I found out later that it was spittle from when he stuck his tongue out at someone. Way different. Recently I was told that he stabbed two different kids with his pencil. Yes, they used the word stabbed. Turns out yes he poked them on the skin with a pencil and he shouldn't have done it, but I totally thought he stabbed and drew blood or something more violent.

I don't understand why they would used such words that don't give the right meaning and intent.

Serene is my name, not my life! said...

I don't know.

But I was talking to a mom just the other day who's son was written up in kindergaten for "pulling a girl's pants down" at school.

When the mom asked her son to explain, her son said a girl he was playing with had fallen down and her hurt knee. So together they "pulled down her pants" to look at it. Her son then demonstrated by sitting down and pulling UP his pant leg and said, "See? we pulled down her pants!"

So when the kids told the adults what they were doing, he got in big trouble, when really he just got his "ups" and "downs" mixed up.

Saimi said...

See that there just proves you're not at all the 'worlds worst mom' quite the contrary...You're the worlds BEST mom!

jaacs said...

What a great reminder. Thank you for sharing this and for the further explanation as to what you did for your "sensitive" kiddo. I have one, too, and really appreciated the insight. Thanks!

Sue said...

Good job, Mom!


Garvin Smith said...

Did your son get a cut of the Tooth Fairy's payout, for his help in getting the tooth out?

Shoe Mama said...

All's well that ends well. Now what should I do about my preschooler that bit another child today for not sharing? We haven't had a problem with him biting in over two years. I'm not sure if it is because his younger brother plays puppy and licks/bites sometimes (we are trying to deal with that, cuz it's just gross) or what the deal was. Sigh. They didn't tell me being a mom was going to be this difficult.

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