Friday, January 8, 2016

Talking with and Listening to a Child

September 11, 2013

After Jeremy's testimony, Rev. Francis Chan spoke at the Identity Unleashed Event. He captured the audience's attention when he shared tragedies of his life. On the day that Francis was born in San Francisco, his mother died. His father remarried, but his second wife died in a car accident when Francis was three years old. His father remarried and his third wife took care of their four kids. When Francis was 12, his father died of cancer. What kind of hope, help and healing were there? How did Francis Chan unleash his true identity?

When security and safety were threatened, our survival instincts kick in with lightning speed. Fight or flight. Attack or withdraw. But not every situation is about life and death. Therefore, it is important to train our children to use feelings as signals that draw attention to what is really going on and what is really important.

From an early age, we can teach kids to name feelings (e.g. glad, mad or sad). They need to know the differences between being glad, sad, or mad. They need to know emotions have different degrees of intensity (e.g. annoyed vs. enraged). Since we adults also have emotions throughout the day, there are plenty of teachable moments when we can take responsibility for our own feelings and show our kids how we deal with life. For example, if a car cut in front of you on the freeway, you might have been so startled or indignant that you yelled out something you did not want your kids to hear.

If that scenario ever happens, learn how to process your feelings, thoughts and needs. Imagine revealing your inner self like this during a conversation. (NOTE: Don't say all of these in one breath! Simplify to your child's level!)

Did you see how that guy cut us off? Do you know what happened? <pause>
When that car moved suddenly in front of me, I was terrified. I thought we were going to crash. We could have died. <pause>
I was angry at that guy for being rude and careless. <pause>
But yelling is not right - especially since I was scaring you and your little sister. I'm sorry that I made the situation worse. Will you forgive me? <pause>
You know what? I just needed to feel safe. Next time I could just focus on the road. Maybe that guy was hurrying because of an emergency. Thank God for His protection.

Kids and teenagers can be unhappy for many reasons.

I vividly remember one of my earliest experiences counseling kids at public schools. One day I had an appointment with a third grade girl. As I approached her classroom, I saw her and her teacher standing at the door. Both of them were standing with hands on their hips. They were staring at each other with fiery eyes (even though the student was a little girl and the teacher was a six-foot tall adult).

I walked closer. Both of them were talking and nobody was listening. When the teacher saw me, she exclaimed, "Take her! Take her! She needs counseling!" She listed some unacceptable behaviors before she hurried back to her class.

I gently touched the girl's arm and said, "Let's go. We will talk."

We were both quiet until we turned the corner. As we walked along an empty corridor, I said softly, "You feel misunderstood and hurt."

At those words, the girl started to sob. Later in the counseling room, she told her side of the story. All I could do was to listen.

"I did my homework ...
But it was not in my back pack ...
But it was not an excuse ...
My teacher wanted me to do it during recess ...
But I don't want to. It's not my fault. I already did it!"

As I nodded, she poured out her heart and shared her fear, agony and pains. She was devastated by the divorce of her parents. They shuttled her between two houses in mid-week ... Now instead of a stubborn and disrespectful student, I saw a child desperately trying to figure things out and to defend herself in life!

My understanding and acceptance calmed her down; and she was able to solve her own problems.

Before the session ended, the third grader was smiling again. She had a plan. "I will apologize to my teacher. Mrs. X is my favorite teacher. I will write a note to explain what happened. I will ask for permission to bring my homework tomorrow morning ..."

"What if she still wants you to finish it during recess?"

"It's okay. I already did it once. I can do it again - Real fast!"

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