At the end of a school year, my husband came home ecstatic. “My sons are geniuses! Did you see their report cards?” Our sons just finished third grade and Kindergarten, and we had just received their report cards by e-mail.
Our sons did well in all areas. My third-grader scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range last year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills. This was not because I pushed them on academics–I didn’t push at all. I think it was because my primary focus was on increasing the time I spend listening to them and encouraging play. That's why my children advanced by leaps and bounds. It showed up on their report cards.
I did work hard listening to them. When my Kindergartener was afraid to take the pre-Kindergarten test, and when he didn’t want to go to school the first two weeks of school, I listened to him cry for hours, reassuring him all the while that he would be safe as he did those things. My listening led to him being able to go to school confidently, and also to his loving to learn so much that I couldn’t stop him from reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.
When my third-grader came home from a day of school with nasty behaviors and harsh remarks, and wouldn’t do his homework, I listened to him cry and rage for hours. Many nights, he didn’t do homework, and I worked with his teacher and even his principal on this issue, as I agreed with him that he had too much. He also had difficult social experiences at school, and I listened to his feelings about those. I listened to relieve his mind, and took action when I thought it made sense, advocating for him and changing my expectations of him, according to what I learned through listening.
I listened to both my children when they fought. They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is just what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives. Nowadays, they amaze me with their increasing ability to roughhouse with each other like lion cubs, laughing and creatively coming up with new play when their upsets are cleared through listening.
My husband and I offered them each a short Special Time daily, and whenever I found opportunities for more one-on-one time. We did Special Time before getting out of bed and before their homework or music practice. We even did Special Time sleepovers for one parent to take one child on a special outing overnight. My children and I spent time pillowfighing and roughhousing in the evening, and we spent time chasing after each other or playing hide-and-seek when going through a morning or bedtime routine.
I listened to their crying every day from three minutes to an hour at a time. Even with frequent short Special Time and Staylistening sessions, by the end of the school week, my sons would become very tight, sizzling with upsets. So over weekends, my husband and I did longer Special Time sessions, and we ended up Staylistening with them when their big feelings would finally surface. Then they would go off to school again on Monday. This is what I did in my family to try to turn their troubles at school around. And when the emotional obstacles were removed, my children went ahead and learned a lot on their own. My Hand in Hand mentor's comment was, “Your husband should say, ‘My wife is a genius!'”
I kept listening to my children because I saw their positive transformation and because we felt closer even though it wasn’t easy to do. I kept listening because I gradually remembered and worked on my childhood and came to think I would have liked it if I had been listened to back then. I was able to keep listening because I had other parents listening to me. So thank you to all my listening partners in my community of parents, for your support.
Parenting by Connection Instructor in California
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