Last year I enrolled both of my children in an after-school gymnastics class at the local Y. My daughter was three and my son was four at the time. I was excited that they would be able to participate in a fun activity together after school and I knew that they would enjoy the class.
It was the first day of class and I made sure to pick my kids up right on time from their school so that we would be on time for the gymnastics class. I had everything planned and prepared, but we were on the clock and there was no time to waste – park the car in front of the house, get up the stairs very quickly, change the kids into comfortable gym clothes, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, get back downstairs, into the car, and off we go, right?
Wrong. My daughter had other plans. She stopped at the stairs…going up. She refused to come up to the house. I begged, rationalized with her, told her how much fun it was going to be, begged her again, held her hand, and pulled her ever so gently up the stairs, getting us about halfway up to our apartment.
I was feeling so nervous. (Why? It wasn’t my class.) I had a plan! Now we were going to be late. I wanted to get there early, help the kids get settled so that they can feel more at ease with this new beginning. There was no time!
I walked up the stairs myself; my son was already up and changing into his sweatpants. Hey, one out of two – not bad. But still, my daughter sat herself on the stairs crying and refusing to come up. I was so focused on getting out of the house on time and so I started to get the snacks ready for the kids, all the while calling for my daughter to please come up. She refused, and we were getting nowhere.
I took a deep breath and stopped what I was doing. I stopped thinking about where we had to go. I pushed everything else out of mind, calmed down, and walked down the stairs to sit beside my daughter. I sat next to her as if she was a good friend, one that I was coming to give support to. I sat right next to her and asked her to tell me what was upsetting her so much.
I had no idea what to expect; no idea what this three-year-old could tell me in that moment. Did she understand my question? Did she have the ability to tap into what she was feeling and then be capable of expressing it to me? I did not know. (I only knew that nothing else was working!)
But to my surprise and amazement, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, I don’t want you to leave.” And then suddenly it all clicked. I got it. My daughter thought that I was going to just drop them off at gymnastics and leave them there until class was finished and come get them when it was done. She hadn’t seen me all day and now I was going to leave her again. Now, she said none of this, but I knew that that was what she was trying to tell me. I knew because I cleared my mind and chose to focus only on her in that moment. I believe that by doing so I was able to understand what she was really trying to say. And here is the proof.
I responded to her by reassuring her that I was going to stay in the class with her, sitting on the side with all the other parents that want to stay and watch, and I wanted to watch because I missed her all day too.
Her response: a big hug, no more tears, and total cooperation. She joyfully came up the stairs, changed her clothes, washed up, ate a snack, went to the bathroom, came down the stairs and into the car with no more complaints. (And yes, we made it on time.)
I am still amazed by that incident. It was so simple. All I had to do was listen, really take the time to listen so that I was able to figure out what was really going on with her and give her the support that she required so that she could move forward. Wow, what a great lesson that was for me. I was so amazed with my daughter and thrilled that she was able to express to me what she was feeling (in her own way, of course.) I felt like a superstar mom in that moment (woohoo to me!)
Am I always a superstar listener (for my clients, definitely!)? It’s not easy, and does not come naturally all the time. Telling this story reminds me how powerful the simple tool of listening can be, and I often find myself telling myself to stop what I am doing, look my spouse, my child, my mom, my sister, my friend, my grandmother, or whomever may require my attention at the moment, in the face, clear my mind and just listen to what they are saying.
How about you? How well do you listen?
What is going on in your mind when someone else is talking?
Here is an exercise I will be doing this week to help me fine tune my listening. See if you would like to try it out too.
The next time someone is talking to you, just stop what you are doing – put down your book, turn away from the computer or T.V., stop doing the dishes, get off the phone – take a deep breath, and focus. Face the person speaking to you and give them your full, undivided attention. Stay quiet, and don’t interrupt.
Let me know what you learned.