My 17 year-old son Nick was out past curfew last night. He attempted to call me on the phone a few minutes before but I didn’t answer. I called him back right at his curfew and told him to get home. He had an explanation but I didn’t want to hear it. I told him on the phone that he was grounded without even finding out what happened.
I had given him permission to have two friends over to spend the night. When they were ready to head home, the driver had to go to his house. Between getting his stuff and switching vehicles some keys were locked out. It took some time for them to get back in and get to the house.
So I was punishing my kid even though:
he called me,
he was where he was supposed to be, and
he was doing nothing wrong.
So much for that Father of the Year award. All because I failed to listen. I had egg on my face this morning when I heard the story and had to recant my punishment.
Stephen Covey writes as Habit 5 “Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.” I’ve read the book. I’ve taken classes on the Seven Habits. I know this. I’ve written about this before (see “Can You Hear Me Now“). Then why do I have such a hard time putting it into practice?
Maybe it’s because as parents we think we know everything. We feel like we’re the authority figure in the home and kids should do everything we say. We get caught up in assumptions and expecting bad behavior. While we are the authority, we don’t know everything.
Sometimes we expect the worst. Our minds conjure up images of what they might be up to. Punishment seems to be the only alternative. We may want to be assertive and decisive in our parenting. We try to command respect instead of earn respect. Listening can be construed as weakness.
Seeking first to understand is about active listening. It’s not enough to simply wait your turn to talk. Seeking to understand means probing. It means stopping to evaluate what you’ve heard. It means asking questions. It means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. It means showing the same respect that you would want.
So what should I have done instead? Several things come to mind.
- I could have answered the phone when he called the first time.
- I should have listened to the story instead of getting my words across.
- If I wanted Nick home, I could have gone to get him myself.
- I could have asked if they needed help.
- I could have extended grace and not been such a stickler on the curfew.
So, more for me than for your guys, don’t be so quick to snap to judgment. Remember that we are modeling behavior for our kids every day. If we want them to grow up and be active listeners, we need to show them how. Beginning with me.
Discussion Questions – What parenting success story can you share where active listening techniques paid off?
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