At the end of the last school year, our sons’ report cards surprised me and my husband. My older son, ending third grade, scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range the previous year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills.
The report cards were surprising considering that my focus was almost the opposite of pushing my sons to excel in school. During his third-grade year, I had nearly pulled my older son out of school because he had been overwhelmed by the homework and was struggling to keep up. Instead, I had worked hard—and succeeded—at making the case to the school to reduce the homework load. This meant that I could spend more time playing with my sons and connecting with them. I also focused on listening to my sons when they were having upsets. I believe that along with efforts by the teachers and my partner to foster the boys’ academic skills, my listening to my kids has had a lot to do with their learning achievements.
When my younger son didn’t want to go to Kindergarten the first two weeks, I Staylistened. He cried for hours, while I held his socks in front of him saying, “It’s time to change,” or cradled him on my lap saying, “I am sure you can have fun at school.” Because I took time for his feelings, he was late a few mornings. That was a worthwhile time investment, as he started going to school with joy and confidence after he was done offloading his feelings. Once he finished working on our separation and his transition to a new environment, he was an unstoppable learner, reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.
When my older son came home from a day of school in a nasty mood, making harsh remarks and unwilling to do his homework, I moved in close and listened to him cry and rage. When he let go of his tensions through showing them to me, he gradually came back to his sweet, sparkly, easy-to-laugh self again. Sometimes, my son really needed a good cry before he could do any homework. Also, a long Special Time with him over the weekend would help him feel safe to show me his negative feelings, offload them through crying and upset, and regain some of his enthusiasm and delight in learning and school.
Sometimes, my children could not get down to doing their homework because they fought with each other. I listened to both my children when that happened. They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives. When there was tension between them, I would say, “Let’s wrestle!” and we’d go to the bedroom. Sometimes, we’d throw pillows. Other times, we would chase each other around or they would climb on me while I tried to shake them off. They are in their element when they play like this, laughing a lot. Sometimes they cry as they get too rough or they get hurt. Laughter and tears seem to melt the dividing wall between them, and then they are good with each other again.
Once their emotions are listened to and released, my sons are able to engage with their school projects. This year, in the first and fourth grades, they love learning and learn because they want to, rather than because it’s required of them. What a shift!
It was often hard to listen to my sons when they were mad at me. Seven years ago when I first came to Hand in Hand for help with all sorts of parenting issues, I soon realized that I first needed to help myself, by working on my own feelings. That often felt like a detour, but as it turned out, it was probably a shortcut to help my kids. I experienced how releasing my emotional heat through a Listening Partnership enables me to think well again, and that showed me how things work with my kids: They bring their hard feelings to me, I offer support, they shed their feelings, and then they recover. Listening Partnerships were a big part of how I helped my children with their challenges in school.
The result: Unstoppable learners.
—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor
Join Keiko in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 22. Register now!
Listen to a podcast of a recent teleseminar “Parenting: Going Deeper”, in which Keiko presented.