Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Charlie Brown and the grownups

The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention
Richard Moss

 “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” 
Leo Buscaglia

Was flipping through the channels recently and came across an old “Peanuts” episode. I decided to stop for a while and take a trip down memory lane. I have great childhood memories of the great pumpkin, the Charlie Brown Christmas, and even Lucy pulling the football away from poor Charlie Brown.

I could kind of relate to that.

As I was watching, something occurred to me that I never really stopped and thought about before.

The kids can’t hear a word the adults are saying.

Go back and rewatch and it will all come back to you. Any time an adult speaks it just comes out as white noise. Waaah, waaah, waaah, waaah, waaah.


In thinking about this, I came to the realization that it’s not far from how a lot of kids hear the adults in their lives. Too often we talk at them instead of to them, and when we do so, the earflaps go up. Most adults I know have less than perfect listening skills, so it’s no wonder most kids haven’t fully developed theirs yet either. Kids want to talk about THEIR worlds, and simply expecting them to stop and pay attention when we want them to listen, is often an exercise in futility. Sure in a perfect world kids would respect their elders, listen when spoken to, and come the first time they are called. The only time I’ve ever really seen it work like that was in The Sound of Music.

And that guy had a whistle.

I think one of the secrets to getting kids to really hear us is to first model a sense of empathy by becoming interested in their lives, and really listening (not waiting to talk) about what they are trying to tell us. When we give children the purity of our attention, we demonstrate to them that they deserve respect and consideration, while also providing a model as to how they should treat others. When we raise our voices, lose our tempers, and physically punish, we are providing another kind of lesson about how to cope with conflict. I’ve sat with far too many adults who wake up one day and realize they have incorporated traits of their parents they swore they never would. The young mind is like a mirror, and it absorbs the prints of its handlers.

Many parents may read something like this and disagree. They were raised to think children should obey, be seen and not heard, and be disciplined in the same ways they were as a child. And truthfully, I do believe most parents are doing the best they can with the information that is available to them. As a counselor I have sat with dozens of children who don’t listen to me, and I know it can be incredibly frustrating to feel you are simply spinning your wheels. Still, we must consider that children are a work in progress, and often haven’t fully grasped the concepts of listening, sharing, and empathy for another person’s time.

We teach these things by living these things. That’s the way kids learn. By watching us.

So next time you are having problems communicating with a child, consider taking some time to simply sit and listen. Not with advice, not with a life lesson, but instead with both compassion as well as patience. The WAY you listen to them is often just as powerful of a lesson as any kind of advice you have to dispense.

I know I always consider it a victory when a child begins hearing what I say.

Too often I’ve been like the adults in Charlie Brown’s world.

Waaah, waah, waaah, waah, waaah…..

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