There are two situations in which it’s most essential to listen to your children: when you’re solving problems together AND when you’re supporting your child in solving their own problems.
Listening to children express themselves builds family connections and develops children’s emotional and intellectual capacities needed for a successful and happy adulthood.
However, the one situation in which you shouldn’t listen to your child’s feelings and thoughts is when you’re setting and enforcing expectations or rules.
During these moments, listening to your child’s concerns leads them to believe that the limit or expectation you’re setting is up for discussion, which it is not.
While listening can be typically helpful for your child, not listening at these times can be more helpful.
Problems arise when this non-listening leads to inner turmoil within you. You might be thinking, ‘You’re telling me that there are times when I shouldn’t listen to my kids? I’ll feel guilty if I don’t because my kids will be hurt, feel like I don’t care, and then get mad at me, which will make my limit setting worse.”
Let’s unpack those concerns and explore why listening to your child when you are using the Director Role to set limits and expectations is not advised.
The Director Role: Little or No Listening to Children
Adults use the Director Role when they’re setting and enforcing expectations and limits because they’ve identified a need to solve a problem when the child hasn’t.
In the Director Role, you simply state the limit or expectation without discussing it with your child.
Often, parents try to talk their child into going along with their decision by explaining their reasoning in the hopes of gaining compliance.
Since your child doesn’t think that a limit is needed, no matter what you say, your child won’t agree with the limit being set.
So, now you’ve set the expectation that your child is welcome to express their point of view. When you listen, you’re giving your child the underlying message that your listening may result in your child influencing you to change your mind.
This negative and often hostile interaction usually infuriates parents.
They just want their child to follow the rules, and they can’t understand why they “always have to argue,” when it is in fact your lack of understanding and implementation of the Director Role that has unwittingly encouraged your child’s arguing.
With proper Director Role strategies, you will discourage arguing and instead encourage cooperation.
The most common Director Role strategies parents use that don’t involve listening to the child’s arguments are:
- The After-Then Strategy
- The “It’s Time To” Strategy
- Setting Clear Expectations
- Setting Your Personal Boundaries
If you use any of the above Director Role Strategies and still feel compelled to let your child express themselves, don’t listen during the strategy itself.
Instead, let your child know that you will listen to their opinion for a specified period at a later time but that your listening to their opinion will not change the rule.
You could say, “I understand that you aren’t happy with the rule of turning in your phone at 9:00 PM. I’m willing to listen to your thoughts and feelings about this rule for 10 minutes as long as you speak to me respectfully. It’s important that you understand that my listening doesn’t mean that I will change my decision.”
If your child comes back with, “You don’t care what I think or feel,” you could respond with, “In this situation, I am making the decision. There are many times when I listen, such as when we are solving a problem together or when I’m listening to your problem. My decision is final.”
By learning how to listen when you solve problems together and when your child is trying to solve their own challenge, your child will feel that you care and that the two of you are connected.
The times when you don’t listen will be minimal in comparison to the times that you do, so don’t worry that you’re not being a caring or loving parent. Stating a limit without listening is also a form of love.
Copyright 2019 Cynthia Klein . Parenting Expert . Bridges 2 Understanding . Author of Ally Parenting: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation.