Parenting article published in the Crazy Wisdom Journal
To see the published version of this article, go to: https://www.crazywisdomjournal.com/featuredstories/2024/1/1/conscious-parenting-harnessing-the-power-of-talking-out-loud-the-teddy-bear-and-the-talker
Harnessing the Power of Talking Out Loud --
The Teddy Bear and the Talker
When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.
-Rachel Naomi Remen
Imagine you are a parent and your child is trying to figure something out, like what to do for the summer. As your child talks to you, what kinds of questions do you feel drawn to ask? Do the questions have more to do with supporting your child in exploring the parts of the conversation your child wants to explore, or more to do with your own concerns? What could enable your child to get the benefit of having plenty of room to talk out loud and to take the conversation wherever your child wants to go with it?
If your child knows about Teddy Bear Talk Support (TBTS), then your child can ask you to be a “teddy bear.” Serving as a teddy bear means that, for a short length of time, you’ve agreed to be a listener that does very little talking. You’ll only talk when your child asks you to do things like ask questions or reflect some things back to your child.
Why would anyone want to talk to a teddy bear if teddy bears do so little?
The teddy bear might not be "doing much," but the teddy bear’s interest, presence, and attention can make all the difference. Things can sound different and register differently. As the talker, to some extent, you're imagining what the other person is paying attention to, what is the teddy bear expecting to hear you say, what parts of the story are likely to stand out for the teddy bear. As a result, some things can become immediately obvious. What you’re focusing on (as the talker) can change, and that can make next steps clearer. The teddy bear has given you a new context to speak into, even if the teddy bear is not saying anything.
Plus, what the teddy bear is also doing for you is staying out of your way. This is key because TBTS is all about the talker having plenty of room to maneuver.
Here are some different things that the teddy bear might be asked to do besides mostly silently listen:
- Paraphrase parts of what the talker said
- Offer some open, honest questions
- Make guesses at what's at the bottom of what the talker is speaking about, e.g., make guesses at what feelings and needs are underlying what the talker is saying
- Serve as a scribe who writes down parts when asked
An important thing to note about TBTS is that the teddy bear doesn’t need to fully understand what the talker is saying. The talker is speaking for the talker’s own benefit, not the teddy bear's benefit! Serving as a teddy bear is how one mother was able to help her high school son with complex math that she couldn't understand. He talked through the math problems, and she served as the teddy bear, the second set of eyes, the other mind, the person to explain things to.
I regularly serve as a teddy bear for multiple people who are writing about topics I don’t understand. One of them captured something that constantly astounds us one day by exclaiming, "It's amazing how I know what to say when someone is listening."
TBTS is perfect for being able to have more connection with people who might otherwise be feeling lonely about having to work on something all by themselves. It can be so easy to feel isolated, and it helps to have easy ways to reach out. Instead of telling your kids it's time to go do something (e.g., clean their room, do their homework), you can invite them to co-work with you. Have them do their own work, while you do yours, but every 20 minutes take a break from doing work and take turns doing TBTS with each other for three minutes each. That way, while they're doing an onerous thing, you're also doing work alongside them. Plus, you’ve "baked in" opportunities for benefiting from TBTS.
Not needing to fully understand also means that you can connect with the excitement and the ups and downs of a story that your child wants to share, even if you’re not a passionate expert on the topic like your child is. After my 12-year-old’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, he had a long story about what had just happened involving how “he [the opponent] went for a one-leg, so I swooped down at the same time and got him in closed guard.” I could easily hear how satisfying it was for my son to predict what would work and could share in it with him, even though I didn’t know what all the terms meant. Similarly, sometimes you can connect by having a child talk out loud about what they are doing or planning while the child is working on a project that you may or may not understand. This worked well with my son when I offered to be a teddy bear for him when he was deciding what he wanted to draw next. Being able to do some out loud processing gave him momentum and traction, whereas before he was at a loss for ideas.
Do you tend to get stuck in “parent mode” when listening to your child? Can TBTS help you shift into “housemate mode?”
A mother was able to use TBTS to get out of “parent mode” by having the teddy bear do something that I found surprising. The mother and her child, Serena, were talking about how adults can find it hard to say “I don’t know.” They decided to have the mother practice by having her be a teddy bear that only says “I don’t know.” All was going well until Serena asked “Why am I alive?” The mother was supposed to say “I don’t know,” but she simply couldn’t. Finally, she compromised and said “What would be the benefit of me not giving you an answer?” She then saw Serena find her own truth.
You can think of teddy bears like housemates that talkers can run something past, people that happen to be around that you can grab for a moment to talk to. This housemate image is a helpful one for when your child is being the talker. You can see your child more as their own person (more like a housemate) rather than as your child. What can mainly listening reveal? Mainly listening might cause you to appreciate your child more, to be more supportive versus imposing your own issues on your child, and to be more able to see your child as a full person rather than as your responsibility.
Leeann Fu is the co-facilitator of Empowering Wisdom parenting circles (empowering wisdom.org) and the creator of Teddy Bear Talk Support (teddybeartalksupport.com). Leeann leads workshops on Teddy Bear Talk Support specifically for parents as well as workshops for everyone (teddybeartalksupport.com/workshops).