We tell young children that we use our ears to hear. It explains the function of ears, but we aren’t being entirely accurate. In order to really hear our children, we need to use all of our senses. They cannot always tell us what they need but, if we are observant enough, we can hear them. The child who has tantrums is talking to us. The child who communicates physically by hitting or pushing is talking to us. The child who squeezes so hard when we hug is telling us something.
Frustration is one of the hardest emotions for a child to cope with and express. Frustration can look like a tantrum or a thrown toy. Frustration can also look like a child sitting in a corner and refusing to interact. Punishing children for expressing frustration in the only way available to them does not solve the underlying problem. Children need a word for what they feel. They need to know that we hear them. We need to say, “I see that you are frustrated” and then talk about what action they can take next time instead. It is true that sometimes children need to be removed from a situation. They need a break but they don’t need an isolating time out. They need to be near you while they regain control of their emotions. They can sit near you, take a deep breath, problem solve and learn.
Crying isn’t fun for anyone. When children cry, they are in distress and need us to listen. Their troubles may seem minor, trivial or even cute to us but they are serious to your child. Children need to know that we hear their sadness and it matters. Ignore or demean their emotions when they are young and chances are that they won’t come to you when they are sad in their teen years. Hear them, give words to them and let them know that you take their world seriously, too.
We can see and hear the signs of frustration and sadness. We can feel their need for security and affection. It is as if they draw strength from us when they hold our hand or hug tightly. During our busy days, we need to take the time to feel for their insecurities. When they cannot express the reason for the unusually tight hug or grasp of our leg or our hand, we need to hear that they are needy and return the grasp. Hug a little longer. Squeeze back.
It is so wonderful to use our senses to hear their happiness. When your children are laughing, stop what you are doing and really listen. They won’t giggle that way forever. When your children run into your arms after a business trip, they are saying, “I love and missed you.” When they jump up and down when their friends or family pull into the driveway, they are saying, “I am so excited and like these people.”
Pause, watch, look, listen, feel and consider what the children may really be saying. Our children are always speaking with their whole beings and we need to listen with all of ours.
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