When my 16-year-old son, Gabe, came home from school and said nonchalantly, “I quit the lacrosse team today,” I heard the words and rushed to judgment. Yes, I was thinking about how much the equipment had cost, but I was also worried about his ability to honor an important commitment. “When you join a team you’re making a promise to be there for the other guys,” I reminded him. “It’s not fair to them.” With that off my chest, I went back to scrubbing a pot -- furiously -- and waited for him to respond. No such luck. He just wheeled around and left the room as if he hadn’t heard a single word.
It turns out, however, that I was the one who had shut the door on communication, according to Martha B. Straus, PhD, author of No-Talk Therapy for Children and Adolescents (Norton). “The best thing you could have said was nothing,” she says. “But if you had to answer, you should have empathized with him by saying, ‘That must have been a tough decision to make.’”
My error was expecting my son to communicate as easily and quickly as I do. “Kids’ brains have to sort through a lot of emotional reactivity before they can respond,” says Straus. The parent’s job is to get beyond what’s happening on the surface. When you do, you are helping your child learn to negotiate and compromise not only with you, but also with himself.
How can you be a better listener? Straus offers these effective strategies, which you can start using today.