Have you ever tried talking with your children only to be frustrated by one word, unenthusiastic, totally bored responses? Many parents become discouraged when they ask their children, “How was your day?” and their children say, “Fine.” Then they ask, “What did you do today?” The response is, “Nothing.”
Try Closet Listening
Closet listening means you find times to be near your children, hoping they will talk with you, but not being obvious about it. I tried this with my daughter, Mary, when she was a teenager. While Mary was getting ready for school, fixing her hair and makeup at the bathroom mirror, I would go in and sit on the edge of the tub. The first time I did this, Mary asked, “What do you want, Mama?” I said, “Nothing, except that I just want to spend a few minutes with you.” Mary waited to see what would come next. Nothing did. She finished fixing her hair and makeup and said, “Bye, Mama.”
I continued to do this every morning. It wasn’t long before Mary got used to having me there. I didn’t ask any questions, but Mary would chat away about all the things that were going on in her life.
Children often feel interrogated. You may be ready to talk when your child isn’t. Experiment by serving cookies without asking, “How was your day?” Just sit there. Perhaps children who resist questions will respond when you make yourself available and just listen.
Tool in Action
With my daughter I don’t even really have to make an effort at closet listening, because she is always talking. I find it very entertaining to just sit and listen to all of her random thoughts.
With my son I have to make a conscious effort to “listen without judging, defending, or explaining.” I tried to practice a version of closet listening one night with my son. The conversation went something like this:
SON: I don’t know what to do about math.
SON: Yeah . . . I’ve never had an incomplete in math before.
DAD: What is an incomplete?
SON: If you don’t pass a quiz, you get an incomplete.
SON: Yeah, if you get more than two answers wrong on the quiz you get an incomplete.
SON: I just don’t really understand what we are doing right now. [This is where my son went into great detail about the mathematical equations he didn’t understand. I will spare you the details.]
DAD: Wow! That sounds hard.
SON: I guess I’ll go talk to my math teacher tomorrow and ask him for help.
DAD: That sounds like a good idea. Hey, do you want to play ping-pong before you go to bed?
Listen below to excerpt from Empowering Teenagers CD with Dr. Jane Nelsen talking about Closet Listening.