Listening Can Be Hard: On Children and Disconnects

It was breakfast on a Saturday morning, and we needed to get out the door. Sally, however, had broken her biscuit into little pieces and then pushed them off her plate. The table was a mess.

“I want another biscuit!” she announced.

“What? You already had a biscuit and you broke it into pieces!” I responded.

“But I want a new one!”

“Honey, it tastes the same even when it’s broken in pieces. I promise. Just eat it, it’s almost time to go.”

“No! I need a new biscuit!”

At this point I was getting annoyed. I wanted to hurry breakfast along and I was tired of eating Sally’s extra food. Of course, forcing her to eat food goes against my parenting principles, and I try to only tell Sally “no” when I have good reason, and I knew there was no reason I couldn’t just eat Sally’s crumbled biscuit and get her a new one. But I felt like I was being asked to pander to her every whim and it was starting to bother me. In that moment, I felt that positive parenting was failing me.

“Sally, if I give you another biscuit, what are you going to do with it? Break it into pieces too?” My frustration was starting to show.

“But, I will need help cutting it up.” She looked at me plaintively, intently.

You know how sometimes a series of images can run through your head all at once as you have a sudden realization? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me in this moment. The first image was of Sally, five minutes before, carefully using a knife to methodically cut her biscuit into jagged pieces before pushing them off of her plate. The second image was of Sean’s biscuit, sliced horizontally into two thin circles, with honey spread in between. The third image was a series of images of how Sally usually eats her biscuits, sliced like Sean’s and spread with either honey or jelly.

And suddenly, I understood. Sally wanted her biscuit sliced in two like normal, and she decided to use the table knife and try to do it herself. She failed. Frustrated with her broken biscuit, she pushed it off of her plate and asked for a new one. And she both realized and admitted that she needed help with the cutting. And here I was getting frustrated with her.

Communication is not easy, especially with children. It can be easy to have a disconnect and talk past each other. And when that happens, it can be easy to become frustrated and stop even trying to listen, to just shut it off and go into command mode. “Just eat the biscuit.” “Stop whining.” “You have thirty seconds to put on your shoes.” But when we let our frustration take over and stop listening, we close down the possibility of actually communicating and let the disconnects of life win. We stop trying to work with each other and begin a pattern of talking past each other.

Breakfast on a Saturday morning doesn’t usually convey a life lesson, but this one definitely did just that.

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