“I can’t tell you ’cause you’re a dolt.” Kenny said through his sniffles.
“A dolt?” I thought. What did I do to be called a dolt by a kindergartner in my Sunday school class? I took a deep breath and ventured into unknown territory.
“Kenny, what do you mean, a dolt?”
“You know, a grown-up.”
“Oh, I see. An adult.” That was a relief.
“Mike said if I told a dolt, it would be tattling, and then he’d really pinch me.”
Our Sunday school group was walking back from the Children’s Sermon portion of the service when Kenny had burst into tears. Kenny and I were talking in the hallway while my co-teacher took the rest of the group into our classroom for a snack.
I was down on my knees, eye level with Kenny.
This looked like an “active listening” moment.
Active listening is a set of skills that allows adults to help a child handle the child’s own problems. Active listening is called for in situations in which the child owns the problem, or in which the child and the adult share responsibility.
The following five skills are involved in active listening:
1. Listen actively. Be all ears, and restate what you understand.
2. Listen for content.
3. Connect feeling to content.
4. Look for alternatives and/or predict consequences.
5. Follow up.
“So you’re upset and hurt because Mike pinched you?” I asked.
“He pinches me every Sunday in church. Mike says, ‘Bet I can make you squirm.'” Kenny’s upper lip quivered.
“Mike is pinching you in church trying to get you to misbehave.”
“He’s supposed to be my friend,” Kenny hiccupped.
“It feels bad when a friend tries to get you to do the wrong thing.”
Kenny nodded. “Please don’t tell Mike. He said if I tattled he wouldn’t be my friend.”
“Would you like me to make sure that Mike doesn’t sit next to you during the children’s sermon?” I asked.
“But he’s my friend.”
“Is there something else we can try, so he won’t bother you?”
Kenny looked straight at me. “I think I need to tell him to stop. That it’s not okay to pinch me.”
“Would you like me to be there when you tell Mike?”
“No, but I think I’ll tell my mom.” Kenny wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Kenny, let me know how it goes when you tell Mike that it’s not okay to pinch you.”
“Okay. I’m ready for cookies.” Kenny turned and walked into the room.
Since Kenny and I shared responsibility for his situation, I listened and kept his confidence from Mike.
From my end, as an adult, I took the responsibility to make sure that Kenny felt safe.
I visited with Kenny’s and Mike’s mothers about the situation.
I mailed Mike a note telling him that friends used their hands to help other people, and I mentioned ways I had seen him help.
Active listening helps keep communication open and can assist us from reacting with some of the following responses:
1. Commanding. “Stop the crying, Kenny.”
2. Give advice. “Just don’t sit by Mike.”
3. Placate or distract. “Go have a cookie–two cookies.”
4. Moralize. “I’ll tell Mike that is wrong.”
5. Use sarcasm. “Aren’t you a crybaby.”
6. Act like a know-it-all. “Just tell Mike to stop it.”
7. Play psychologist. “Mike’s having some problems right now.”
These kinds of responses can block communication and not help the child learn to solve the problem independently.
Don’t be a dolt. Practice active listening.