I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. People get all revved up about setting a goal at a completely arbitrary time of year. The warm glow of the holiday season casts a rosy tinge over what can actually fit into your daily grind. Out of that glow come public proclamations of some grand ambition for the new year. Then, a few weeks or months back into that daily grind….the internal resolve to make that ambition a reality fizzles out, often without the well-meaning proclaimer even realizing it until much later.
That’s why, this year, I’m turning the New Year’s resolution on its head. Instead of resolving to DO something, I’m resolving NOT to do something:
I’m resolving not to talk as much when interacting with kids – both my own two daughters and the thousands of elementary and middle-schoolers that the nonprofit I work for serves. In the space left by closing my mouth, I look forward to doing a lot more listening.
Three things have inspired me to not talk as much. First – experiencing how much a 14 year-old I occasionally mentor opened up to me when I stopped giving him advice and instead started asking him about his challenges and opinions, and really listening to his answers. Second – repeated conversations lately with my 7 year-old daughter, in which she -rightly – got upset when I cut off her questions with answers because I assumed – wrongly – that I knew what she was saying. Third – reviewing the Ask Listen Learn program materials this winter in preparation for incorporating them in upcoming afterschool programming.
I suffer from the tendency, probably like many well-meaning adults, of far too often thinking that I have the answers kids need, that soothing words from a caring adult can paper over kids’ worries or fears, that I can teach them exactly what to do if they would only listen.
Those three recent experiences reminded me that I know better. That if I truly want to help kids learn how to make good choices, I first need to ask questions and listen to their answers – not talk at them. Kids don’t respond when grown-ups tell them what to do. They respond to feeling heard. So in 2016 you’ll find me closing my mouth and opening my ears a whole lot more.
What will you do in 2016 to help the kids in your life learn how to make good choices?
The original version of this post appeared on responsibility.org. Looking for tips on how to have meaningful conversations with kids of all ages about responsible decision-making? Check out their Ask, Listen, Learn materials.