One of my many benefits of my job is being around children and listening to their conversations. Children may not yet have a broad vocabulary to express themselves, but they have very deep, meaningful thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you actively listen and not just pretend to be listening, you can learn a lot and renew your faith in the future of our world.
Here are a few things children have taught me:
(1) Speak respectfully to them if you would like to be respected in return. Remember children mimic what they experience. They learn to speak only by being spoken to. Point and case: We have all had the occasional road range and blurted out choice words for other drivers. Children learn most profanity from being in the car with us and although they may not know what the irreverent words mean, they use them in similar contexts when they feel angry towards another. I recently had a child in my office who was using profanity. His Mother was called in a meeting to discuss the problem. She said, “Where did you hear such language?” He looked her square in the eyes and said, “From you. You say those words all the time!”
(2) Do not ask their opinion if you are not ready to face the truth. Children are not intentionally brutally honest, but to them answers are very black and white. Not telling the truth when asked is lying. So, if you are not ready to hear your new hair style is not flattering, don’t ask as child. Ask another adult, they are accustomed to telling you what you want to hear.
(3) Children constantly asking “why “forces adults to reevaluate things they have been doing most of their lives. Point and case: After returning from an evening of Trick or Treating, I asked my son to let me examine all his candy before he sampled anything. He asked, “Why?” and I said I wanted to make sure no one tainted it. He said, “Why would you ever let me go out asking for candy knowing someone might poison me?”
(4) A child’s perspective is their reality. We recently had an incident where a child curiously pulled the fire alarm to see what would happen. The fire department responded with blaring lights and loud sirens and it terrified the children. Fortunately, we were able to make a lesson out of it and the firefighters graciously waved at the children as they left the false alarm. Every day following the false alarm, they ask me if we are having a drill and I say we are not. One day the alarm reengaged without notice, because it was not properly reset. I have lost credibility with the children because they trusted me. I should have chosen my words more carefully!
(5) When life is too hard, they retreat to their imaginations. Children who long for something they are not getting incorporate that wish into their play. I have had children tell me their divorced parents are getting back together, their Daddy went to work and never came home, their Mommy is having a baby sister and the family dog was raised from the dead. I have heard stories about imaginary trips to a happier place than home, birthday parties that never actually happened and superhero powers discovered at the most crucial times.
I urge all of you to put down your phones, turn off the radio and the television and talk to your children. Listen, really listen and you will understand what I am saying. If you already take the time, make more time. If you don’t start now, they will be adults who are mere strangers to you.