Posts Tagged 'listening'

are you not listening?

We’ve had some teenage drama going on in the house with my 15 year old stepdaughter. As a “bonus” mom (my early spin on my role in the hopes of avoiding the whole stepmonster thing) I may have the slight advantage of being the tiniest bit objective. It’s just a little, but in this case a little goes a long way.

In preparation for some of the difficult conversations that have come up, Bubby and I have practiced what he might say. Which has included a whole lot of not saying anything. Understandably, this is hard for him.

It reminds me how important and rare good listening skills are. Creating the space for feelings to be there, not trying to fix, belittle, or bring the focus back to us.

If you haven’t read How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk, it’s a must. It’s not just about talking to kids, but extra bonus if you have them.

If, like Bubby, you don’t have time to read a book, try the following during your next conversation:

1.  Do not respond. I mean, you can nod and make sounds that indicate that you’re paying attention, but don’t offer your opinion, your remedy, your side, your perspective. Get comfortable with silence.

Here’s what happens when I do this with my bonus daughter (BD) — she starts talking again, and then keeps talking, and tells me more than she planned on. I think she also feels less judged and more accepted.

2. Notice what you’re feeling in your body. Do your palms sweat? Is there a knot in your stomach? Do you feel scared, insecure, angry?

Any response we have comes through the lens of our own experience. When I listen to my BD talk about her challenges with her dad, the girls at school or drama with boys, my response is at least in some way colored by my own experiences with my parents, my high school days, my friends and heart breaks.

Once I remember that and feel the reaction in my body, I can offer a more appropriate comment when necessary. But it’s rarely necessary.

Imagine yourself with big, soft ears. Catch all of the dreams and fears and truths of the person sharing and hold them there — perhaps vulnerable or incomplete, perhaps joyful and trembling.

photo credit




Had an arresting mini freak out yesterday about the Very Exciting Thing I’m working on this week.

The monsters and fairies were having it out:

No you can’t.

Yes you can.

No you can’t.

Yes you can.

They weren’t being very sophisticated about it all.

R (who I call My Bubby … like on the show Weeds… except Bubby was the hateful grandmother who Nancy suffocated with a pillow. Anyway…) came in and I took the Giant Leap of Faith of letting my Monster tell him how we were feeling.

Being a boy and all, sometimes he just wants to fix things instead of let them be. Hard, sad, uncomfortable, whatever.

zzzzib zib zzziizzzibbb <sound of rewind travel time machine to the day before yesterday>

The day before yesterday I was reading aloud to My Bubby from my new favorite book, How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk, (recommended by the fabulous Havi).

This is a book about communicating with anyone who has a heart and monsters.

It’s about listening in all its simple wonder. It’s the Yoga of listening.

I’m only on Chapter 2 and I’ve learned so much.

So I was reading to him in bite-sized pieces. Small enough that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed, big enough that he could get a taste. Like slathering broccoli with cheese whiz.

One of the deceptively simple themes of the book is accepting child’s/person’s feelings:

  • Listen quietly and attentively
  • Acknowledge a feeling with a word—mmmm, oh, I see
  • Give the feeling a name—that sounds frustrating!
  • Give the child’s wishes in fantasy—I wish I had a wand that could make that banana ripe for you right now!

This book has great examples of how we don’t do this; how we deny a person’s feelings, which can leave them confused, even enraged. It also teaches kids not to know what their feelings are, not to trust them.

An example:

Your kid gets weekly allergy shots. You know these shots are uncomfortable but sting for only a minute. After leaving the office today, the child is complaining incessantly.

Denying the child’s feelings:

  • Come on, be a big boy. It can’t hurt that much.
  • You’re making a big fuss over just a little shot.
  • Your brother never complains when he has a shot.
  • Well, you’d better get used to them, you have to have them every week.

Versus listening and accepting (referred to as “giving a name to the feeling”)

  • Sounds as if it really hurts.
  • Must have been painful.
  • Mmmm, that bad!
  • It’s not easy to get those shots week after week. I bet you’ll be glad when they’re over.

The authors concede that most of us grew up having our feelings denied. There’s no reason to be so upset.


Bubby was making slow, carefully planned movements toward the door, almost like a hostage whose guard had fallen asleep. I was sure he hadn’t heard a thing.

zzzzzum zum zum zum <fast forward back to yesterday>

Mini freak out. Tears. Monsters running amok.

Bubby opens his mouth but no sound comes out. He points at the book on the bed.

What that said.


I can’t remember what the right thing is because what I want to say is, “That’s ridiculous, you’re great.”

Oh my God, he was listening. Sort of.

I can’t remember what to say, but I want you to know that I believe in you.

And there I was, arrested all over again.

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