As parents, we want our children to be healthy and safe, but we also want them to be happy. Ironically, our wish for their happiness can sometimes get in the way of our really listening. We put in our emotional earplugs and hope that a child’s complaints just go away. I remember a night when my daughter Maddie was about 9 years old, and having an unusually hard time falling asleep. I was tired — tired of telling her another story, fetching a glass of water, closing windows. So when she announced that she was afraid of ghosts, I almost lost it. But there was something in her face that stopped me. Instead of arguing, I suggested we get a midnight snack. It took a bowl of cereal and about 5 minutes to chase away the “ghosts,” which turned out to be understandable anxiety about starting a new school. I listened to her litany of worries and tried very hard not to dismiss them. Instead, I offered a few suggestions, gave her a hug and walked her back to bed. The French writer and philosopher Voltaire once said, “The road to the heart is the ear.” That night — and on many other occasions — I learned how critical it is to tune into our children, not only when they’re happy, but also when they’re not.
April 29, 2010