Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood

We have two ears and one mouth for good reason. Listening intently is sometimes difficult because we tend to have our own thoughts and advice that we want to impart – especially as a parent. Affirming the ideas and feelings of our children is a powerful step toward teaching our children. When children believe that we care and are willing to listen they are more open to guidance and direction. Listening allows us a little more time to think more wisely about the wisdom we are about to impart. 🙂 An effective strategy to practicing this habit is to ask questions instead of imposing answers. By asking questions we gather more understanding and our children have greater faith in our desire to truly understand their point of view.  Ninety-five percent of what we say comes from the nonverbal messages sent by our expressions, tone, and posture. Re-posturing our bodies and expressing empathy can immediately cause brains to respond more clearly and minimize an unhealthy reaction. Responding to the thoughts of others is much more productive than it is to react to them. Here are a few ways to practice this habit this week:

  • Heart – gently consider a child’s perspective.
  • Mind – intentionally ask three questions before responding.
  • Body – lower your posture and eye contact to or below a child’s eye level when you are listening to their thoughts and feelings.
  • Soul – with empathy and compassion ask why..?

“It is the province of knowledge to speak. And it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.” – Henri Nouwen

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James A. Baldwin

Discipline: To Teach and to Learn
Relate & Redirect – Our goal as parents and educators is to teach so that our children will deeply learn. The first step to teaching is to relate to the disposition of the learner. This takes questioning so that we can understand why and how a child made the decision he/she made. Once we can relate to the situation it is then productive to redirect the behavior. Trying to do this in the opposite order tends to backfire. When a child (or an adult) is upset, frustrated, or confused – redirecting them first may just cause further trouble. Using the phrase, “help me to understand” can allow a child to name to the problem and begin a thoughtful resolution to tame the behavior. Dr. Daniel Siegel uses the phrase “Name it to Tame it” to describe the neurological process that will make our kids smarter in times of trouble.

Learning Links

Put First Things First

No can really mean Yes!

What does it really mean when we say No to our children? Most of the time it means Yes to something more important. It means,Yes, to healthier choices, habits, and relationships. Putting first things first in life means that we are choosing to put off lesser things until later and doing first things now.  Remind your children this week that your No is really a loving Yes to the better version of them. Our No‘s and Yes‘s reflect our values, and when we are clear about what we value in life, No, is often the perfect and right thing to say. 

One of my favorite lessons in the Middle School Pathways program is the rocks and sand exercise (see the Pickle Jar video link below). It is a clear metaphor for getting our priorities straight and finding ways to be more intentional about our life, and likely, being able to achieve more than we may have thought possible. Happy and successful people are great at spending their time and talent on what is most important to them: heart, mind, body, and soul.

Help your children to examine their “firsts” by asking them about each of the AACA colors:

  • Heart (blue) – Who are the most important people in your life?
  • Mind (yellow) – What topics do you enjoy learning about most?
  • Body (red)- How do you like to spend time physically? (favorite sports, hobbies… )
  • Soul (green)- Why are you so special?

The other important message tied to this week’s habit is knowing what is important and urgent, and what is important but not urgent. Sorting the tasks and activities in our lives between these two ideas helps to keep our plates from feeling too heavy and full. I created this guide to support our families in organizing our week/month and helping us to be intentional about our time and talents. I encourage you to print it, talk about it, and decide as a family how you can best use the precious asset of your time.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -Goethe


Learning Links