A friend of mine, during a phone conversation, was suddenly met with the sound of the dial tone, as his 5- year old son decided he had had enough (of not getting his way). My guess is this was a behavior he observed in others, otherwise how could a 5 year old know that hanging up on someone when frustrated was an option?
The father then called the child back and said, “You shouldn’t hang up on people, that’s not nice”. The child said (the obligatory) sorry and they moved on.
Does that appear to be good parenting skills? Did dad do the right thing? What was the focus? Teaching his son good behavior? Is that a demonstration of love or connection? Do you think the child felt satisfied by their interaction?
Our society seems to have little understanding of how to truly interact with each other in supportive ways. Often, the focus (and I am sorely guilty of this) seems to be more on correcting than connecting (thank you Marshall Rosenberg) advising over allowing. We take great pride in being able to find a place or reason to tell another how they can better themselves, but do very little to acknowledge that who they are and how they feel is completely acceptable and perfectly fine. We are brilliant at guidance but are we equally genius at allowance?
Of course we are unwitting in our ignoring of the emotional need that’s often presenting itself- because it’s often unspoken. We are left to guess and wonder to what it is that our comrade, brother, sister, son or daughter, lover, boss, companion and neighbor are saying when they scream, yell, hang up, walk out or even worse (gasp) curse. We are hardly to know that in fact when they slam down the phone, that was is actually and in reality being said is: HELP ME (feel better).
Instead we tune out the emotional need that fuels the furry and focus on the physical action and tell them, no, no no man. No don’t do that, don’t behave like that and whatever caused you to do that, is in no way necessary to discuss as it might be painful and not comfortable to confront so just shhhh, don’t do that, don’t do that I say. Listen to my words don’t follow my example but live out the fear within the context and privacy of your own heart and mind and do not do not feel in front of me, as it’s not easy for me to feel anything…anymore. We have become deadened to the hearts and care of others. We accidentally put ourselves first and forget about the other.
Does the father who corrected his son realize that he just sidestepped his sons’ emotions, definitely not. As our main and sometimes only source for parenting education comes via our parents and while many of us aren’t thrilled with our parents style, it’s the only one we know and rarely do we understand just how their style may have failed us. We just know it did. Thus, we repeat the same knee jerk reactive reactions, the same meaningless mantras (because I said so that’s why) and remain trapped in a form of behavior that produces a quick fix, desired result but does it serve? Does it create a satisfying connection to our loved ones? Based on the number of people I have worked with, interacted and shared time with on this planet, I am going to say, no. So many people never really feel heard. So many of us believe ourselves to be invisible. Our needs and loving intentions ignored or worse, misunderstood.
In the child parent interaction just sited, the parent wanted the child to know, “we don’t act that way because it’s not nice”. Why was that the focus? Why wasn’t the child’s emotional expression addressed from the standpoint of the child’s need instead of from the judgment of his action? Nowhere within our educational culture is there a process that’s taught based on our hearts ability to see and teach.
Therefore the parent really felt he was addressing the situation fully and “correctly”. What really was addressed was the parents belief that he was properly teaching his child about manners and while inadvertently taking care of his feelings about being hung up on (“that’s not nice to hang up on daddy” implies my feelings were hurt by your action, why would you do that to me) while the child’s hurt or frustration (demonstrated by the hanging up) wasn’t addressed. Never did the father say, why were you so upset? What made you so angry or hurt that made you want to hang up the phone?
This lack of questioning from the child’s perspective teaches him to feel bad for his action and shows that his original hurt that caused his “not nice” reaction is of no importance.
Now the child’s emotional state has been layered with a small feeling of guilt for not being a nice person. Since no child wants to feel bad and wants to be viewed as “good” he quickly says sorry so he can release feeling bad and everything goes back to normal.
Except for the fact that this child is now sitting with a bit of embarrassment at making a mistake coupled with an unexplainable feeling of being completely overlooked. He doesn’t have the words or skills to tell you this, so you think everything is fine; and by the way, so does the child.
He has buried his feelings. How might that reveal itself in his behavior as he grows up with this continual neglect of his needs? Remember all that over crowding we have in our prisons? All of those children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or the unruly child who won’t listen in school? How about the myriad of adults who never seems to grow up emotionally?
What has erroneously been taught by this interaction? Be nice to others or you’re a bad person and your needs….oh well, those don’t matter.
Why did this happen? Because he was addressed with his fathers’ thoughts about what he did instead of concern about how the child felt. The childs feelings never entered the discussion (because the father wasn’t taught or nurtured from this perspective either, poor little one). Yet, the father felt very reassured within himself that he just taught his boy well because his son felt bad for what he did and said sorry.
Let’s try this scenario with the son feelings being considered too. The father calls back and this time says:
Dad: Wow, you were really upset, so upset you hung up the phone.
Dad: Were you feeling bad because you weren’t getting what you wanted?
Dad: I understand that, I sometimes get upset when I can’t get what I want too.
Dad: Do you still feel angry?
Son: No, I’m not angry, I just want that toy.
Dad: I hear that you want that toy. That may be possible, but we have to talk about that later, first I want to talk to you about something else. Okay?
Dad has no entered into the possibility of helping his son feel understood rather than only addressing his child’s reaction. If it really feels necessary to give a manners lesson, maybe the talk could continue along the lines below:
Dad: You know I get why you hung up on me, but when you hang up on people, it won’t help you get what you want.
Son: But Billy has the new WII and I want one too!
Dad: I hear ya, but hanging up on me or anyone, doesn’t help get what you want, it may even make things worse. If I didn’t know you so well, I may think you were being mean to me. Luckily, I know you’re a great kid and you’re just angry, but other people might not know you so well and misunderstand why you hung up on them. They’ll think you’re rude.
Son: I’m not rude
Dad: I know that, like I said, you’re a great kid but sometimes other people will misjudge you and that’s okay but I just think you should know not everyone will understand that when you hang up, you’re just upset with not getting your way.
This discussion takes longer than most of our current day discussions. We just shortcut everything, we say the bottom line, cut to the chase and bark or say our wanted end results without ever considering how the other person may be feeling. If we were able to take in the other persons’ perspective while considering what it is we truly want in the moment (do I want my child to feel loved by me or to feel wrong?) we may have more connection and understanding in our relationships. I’ve noticed an immediate sense of satisfaction when I approach my discussions from this new viewpoint. I feel heard because I am actually expressing myself more clearly and I feel proud of myself for demonstrating more care for the other person. I often feel uplifted and it’s not because the other person did anything different, but because I did.