If as parent or teacher you are always the listener, children do not get a chance to show acceptance of you. One sided sharing fosters inequality in relationship. Both sides in a relationship need to be listeners and listened-to.
For example, my daughters come home from school tell me all their gripes. It might be that sometimes children feel all they do is complain. I find it helpful to let my children know I complain, too, both as a teacher and parent. I feel comfortable allowing my children to know some of my own gripes, especially those which give them a sense I understand their feelings.
Perhaps more important is to keep sharing mutual when a child is embarrassed about something he or she has done, like Julie and her intercepted note. It is one thing to be generally accepting and to say, “I remember once in school walking down the hall, loudly mimicking and complaining about a teacher to a friend, only to discover when I turned around that the teacher was walking right behind me.”
Julie immediately wanted to know the details of this embarrassing encounter: “What did you say? What did your friend do? What did the teacher do?” After I supplied these details, she added, “Gee, that must have been awful.”
A child needs to be able to recognize you, too, have embarrassing moments in your life and you are willing to talk about them. It steadies a child’s tottering self-esteem to know adults share some of their same fears and embarrassments.
In counseling students I have often found myself telling stories about some similar happening in my own student experience that enables the young person to sympathize with me. Perhaps what I am aiming for in this is precisely to allow the child to comfort me. Giving comfort builds the child’s sense of competence as a caring, relating person.
I remember coming home one day and telling my daughter Wanda how dumb I had felt having left my car in neutral gear when I hurried in to the drugstore. The car had rolled out in to the middle of the street, and when I came out of the drugstore, I saw a policeman and another man trying to push it over to the side, out of the of the traffic that had been held up. I repeated my feelings of stupidity and embarrassment.
“Poor mom,” Wanda replied, “that sort of thing can happen to anybody. Don’t feel badly.”
Wanda’s words were very comforting to me, and it made her feel good to have comforted me.
I remember once telling one of the collage students my daughter was sick with mono and I was really worried about her. The student had a chance to tell me what she knew about mono, since she once had it and knew other young people who had had it. My sharing gave the student a chance to be informative as well as concerned, comforting and reassuring, as well as is an interested listener. After our discussion, I became a more real person to her and she became more real to me, for I had not experienced the “teaching” qualities of this student before.
In mutual sharing children get an opportunity to feel helpful and valuable to you. In the sharing you become more valuable to them as well, for they know you in a new way. They experience you not only as knower and listener, but also as known and listened-to.
Self-Esteem Principle: Children’s self-esteem grows when they know you value them enough to share some part of yourself with them.