The Value of being Listened To
Leisel Chung, Instructor in Training, Sydney, Australia
I’d been struggling with dealing with multiple off-track kids all by myself for a couple of years, usually ending up feeling overwhelmed, not in any kind of control, lamenting that I have no idea what to do, and being reactionary. The end result was usually me yelling, or threatening or being rough with the kids, or separating one of the kids on the other side of a locked door to keep us all safe. Or sitting and crying.
Since I’ve been learning Parenting by Connection, I now know what to do. That doesn’t mean I can always manage to not react. However, I’m increasingly getting the flexibility, along with the deeper understanding that I need and want with my children.
This particular week I’d had some Listening Time on Thursday morning, and I’d had a bit of a revelation which linked some of the ‘can’t do it’ feelings I experienced in relation to the kids, with a particular relationship, and recurrent situation, I’d had as a child. I felt this was quite significant, and it made a lot of sense to me, explaining why I was finding I just couldn’t cope doing this parenting thing at certain times. I realised I needed some more Listening Time on this issue.
That evening I was telling my husband about my revelation and the feelings came up pretty quickly. I talked about the past, and he listened, and paid attention to me. I cried, and sobbed, and he helped me to focus on those feelings without distracting me from them - mainly through non-verbal communication – hand on my leg, gentle hugs, looking attentively, and caringly at me. I realised a few more things that I struggle with as an adult which seem to be linked to these feelings as well. I talked, and pondered, and cried and ended up feeling really relaxed and calm and happy.
The next night I had quite a challenging situation with all of the children being off-track at dinner time. And I was unexpectedly alone with them. They had been off-track before this. They had a big day, with school carnival and other things. All the afternoon, they’d been ‘at each other’ and it was HARD! At dinner there was bickering, gleeful throwing of cutlery in the air, tipping of plates, snatching of food, and then smashing of food! First, their own and then mine! The younger two were really getting into it. I felt unusually calm, and decided straight away that I couldn’t stop the craziness, and that the best way to deal with it was to get everyone out of there!
I cleared the plates and food off the table quick smart and said quite calmly, “Ok, everyone in pajamas, we’re going for a drive. You can have a sandwich in the car.” The off-track behavior escalated in the bedroom, with my 2-year-old throwing board books at the 6 year old. I deflected them, but when I turned away, my 4-year-old picked up a pile of books and threw them at Miss 6, scratching her back. Miss 2 then picked up a wooden box – about 15cm square – and made to throw it as well. I just managed to intercept it. It was completely out of control! Like I don’t think it had ever been before! But, I kept my cool and acted quickly. No shouting, no threats. I picked up miss 2, herded Master 4 down the stairs, comforted Miss 6 and kept everyone safe and got them in the car. I strapped the younger 2 in the car and kept Miss 6 with me and we made sandwiches together with a spread – quick and easy.
I drove, they ate, they fell asleep and I carried them asleep to their beds. The night ended so much more calmly than it would have previously. I was so much calmer. I could think clearly and make plans to get out of the situation we were in.
Now, this wasn’t formal Listening Time in a Listening Partnership, that I’d had that helped me to think in such a situation, but my husband is familiar with Parenting by Connection and took on the role of listener. I think this is one of the great benefits of using this tool – giving couples who can manage to listen to each other, the tools to really listen and support each other.
Nor was I able to use the Parenting by Connection Listening to Children tools in the moment – but I was able to ‘use my head’. I was calm, I took charge of the situation, I kept us all safe, and the tension defused enough – so well, in fact – that I was able to carry the children to their beds asleep!
No child got told off, isolated, punished, humiliated or further disconnected in any way, and I brought us all back into connection! And, I didn’t feel disconnected from them. I hadn’t hurt these young people, or attacked them in any way. I felt good and especially good to feel calmly in charge, rather than out of control in an out of control situation. The underlying tension that drove their behavior off-track would keep for a better time – I knew that.