This past weekend while I was standing in a store checkout line, a young mother came up behind me carrying her infant son, probably around four months old. The young child was not crying; he was just a little fussy. The mother holding him whispered, “Just a little bit longer, honey. I love you.” She kissed his forehead and placed him into a car seat carrier inside the cart so she could gather her items to checkout.
When I offered to help her, she graciously accepted, sayings “Yes, thank you. I guess he’s had enough.” She shifted her eyes toward the infant still fussing in the carrier, touched his torso, and bent forward toward him, saying again, “Just a little bit longer, honey. I love you.”
In our small talk, she shared how her son had been so good today. “This is my third errand. I think we’re both tired! Funny how I used to just be able to go and do my own thing. Now I have to also think about this little guy and his schedule.”
Compare this with a different interaction I witnessed a few months earlier in the same store. An infant, also around three or four months old, was in his carrier fussing. Mom was frantically trying to collect what she needed in the store and ignored the fussing child. Within minutes, the baby’s cry became louder and more determined. Under her breath, I heard her say, “I’m so sorry I can’t pick you up right now. Just wait a second, sweetie. I’m almost done.” Her infant began to cry with more force. The last thing I heard was a distraught mother saying, “Please stop. I can’t pick you up this minute. I’m almost done. I promise.”
Can’t you relate to both of these mothers? The two stories sure do bring back memories for me! Don’t we all have moments where we interact with sensitivity to our child’s needs as well as where we choose to put them on hold for the moment? I’m assuming most of us want to be like the first mom, relaxed and attentive to our infant. But, the reality is we all have moments like the second mom who did not engage with the infant because she was more focused on her own thoughts and feelings that moment.
Thinking about T.E.L.L.ing children causes me to ask: What are these moms T.E.L.L.ing their infants here? What do these moms Teach, Encourage, Listen, and Love in these interactions?
Here are some thoughts about Listening.
Hear to understand the children’s thoughts and feelings so you can respond with an appropriate and beneficial thought or action.
There is a difference between Listening and hearing. Listening is active and engaging, as well as quiet and reflective. When Listening, we intend to actively understand what a child is thinking and feeling. We engage in the interaction with curiosity. This is different than merely hearing and reacting. Haven’t you interacted with someone who only hears and speaks from his own mind? He sees things only from his point of view and keeps trying to correct you without ever understanding what you are trying to say? This is not Listening. This is interacting solely from one point of view, your own. And, I must add, most of us have these moments at one time or another. Listening can be hard work!
In the first year of life, infants can only communicate how they feel by facial expressions and noises. In the first story, the mom listened to her child’s fuss, and when she noticed any change she responded with a caring look, touch, and words. She actively tried to understand how her child was thinking and feeling. In the second story, the mother heard her child fussing, but she didn’t Listen because her choice of words and actions focused mostly on her own thoughts and feelings. The child did not even realize the mom was speaking to him and of course couldn’t understand her words.
When we try and T.E.L.L. a child, we not only Listen to the child, we also consider a Listening child. We pay attention to how our words and actions may be received by the younger mind. As for the infant in these stories, we have to realize they are actively Listening and receiving whatever is given to them. An infant is Listening so they can begin to understand their environment and caregivers. The mindset of the infant is developing. Whatever the infant consistently experiences in the first year will become the ideas used when the talking begins.
Listening can be difficult. It involves being active and engaging, as well as quiet and reflective. I sometimes wonder if we T.E.L.L. our children to Listen while they are young, maybe it won’t be so difficult for them to Listen when they are older. Maybe there will be more adults Listening to one another!