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!
Do you ever remember feeling misunderstood by the grown-ups around you? Could the following words be ones you may have journaled one time or another when you were younger?
“I am sitting here, wanting to just lie down because it feels like the grown-ups around me see only what I am doing wrong, it’s like that’s the only thing they pay attention to. My parents, my teachers smile at me and say ‘hi,’ ‘good morning,’ and it’s just good if it stays at that. I try to ignore them so they can’t find things to complain to me about, but then I get blamed for ignoring them. Whatever … I try to do what I can, and I’m told that’s not good enough. How come they see all these mistakes? Why can’t they see when I try?
“They just asked me, ‘Why can’t we get along?’ I want to ask them the same question.
“I also want to ask them, ‘Why can’t you look at me and remember when you were younger, did you know everything you know now?’ Didn’t they have to learn as they go? Weren’t they allowed to make mistakes along the way? Am I supposed to believe they have always done everything perfectly?
“I am not making all these mistakes on purpose; I do want to learn, but most of the time I feel like I’m just being told what to do, what to think. … That’s not learning, that’s just obeying.
“Their constant criticisms make me not want to contribute or engage. I wish it were different because I want to contribute. I have dreams of doing great things some day. I know I need to learn some things first. I hope I meet people who can give me some direction, people who will help me learn, not just expect me to obey.
“I mean, aren’t adults supposed to be here to help us out? So much of this makes no sense to me. I’m just a kid.
“I think I have some really good ideas, but no one around me even knows these things about me. They only see my errors and wish to fix them. They are very good at pointing out my errors and threatening me until I do it their way.
“They say it’s for my own good. The way I see it, it’s for their good not mine! I just don’t get it.
“I don’t want to give up. I want to do a lot of great things. I wish I had more people there for me, not against me. I wish I had someone who sees the good things about me, not just my mistakes.”
If you remember feeling this way as a child, don’t you think there could be a child in your life right now who might be feeling this way? What are you going to do about it?
Are you teaching? Are you encouraging? Are you listening? Are you loving?