Keeping a three-year-old for a week has a way of reducing life and truth down to the basics.
One day little Sam seemed to be totally out of sorts, and I was at wits end about how to make things better. I tried laying down the rules. I put him in “time out.” I tried diversions such as toys, crayons and popsicles. They seemed to work temporarily but soon he had that look about him that let me know that things were not well between us.
Finally I sat in the floor with him, took him by the hand and asked, “Sam, what makes you really, really angry?”
“IT MAKES ME ANGRY WHEN PEOPLE DON’T LISTEN TO ME!!” he said in a loud, intense voice, his little face flushed.
Suddenly, I realized that I had been assuming that I had all the answers: I would state the rules, keep order, provide stimulation, make sure he was clean, well fed and all would go well. WRONG! I had left out one of the most important things of all. I had not been TRULY listening to Sam. His whining, his occasional defiance and a few really bad melt-downs had finally brought us to this truth: I had not really been listening. It seemed more expedient not to take the time. (Kids spell “love” t-i-m-e, you know.)
“Do you think I listen to you?” I asked.
“NO!!” he responded.
“Oh my! I’m so sorry, Sam,” I replied. “Can you give me another chance?”
Suddenly his face brightened. His big, brown eyes scrutinized me, checking my sincerity.
“I’m going to listen to you, Sam. And listen, and listen some more. I promise.”
From that moment on, the most incredible thing started to happen. A caring dialog began, as I carefully took time to really understand what was on his mind. I was so much richer for it: I was stunned by his intelligence, his insights, his need for respect, the simple adjustments that could so easily be made. He began to trust me, and our relationship flowered into one that was smooth, fun, intimate. We were “tight” as his parents observed when they came to take him back home.
Sam is one quarter Lebanese, with beautiful, long eyelashes, smooth, tanned skin, shiny dark hair, white teeth that flash when he smiles. Perhaps that is what makes me think of all the boys of the Middle East who are so angry that they are willing to blow themselves up to make a point.
What I have to say may seem politically incorrect, and totally naive. So be it. But it’s time to try to bring some sanity to sort out all this bloodshed and nonsense.
We need to listen, and listen, and listen some more. This, I truly believe.
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