It’s not always easy to listen to our kids. Sometimes they want to talk when we’re in the middle of something. Other times they want to open up at the moment we’re ready to shut down for the day. Or when we’re rushing to head out the door.
Sometimes we give them prods to share information about their day, but instead we get a mono-syllabic response in return.
“How was your day?”
“What did you do in school today?”
Where’s the happy middle ground? The ground where they want to talk and we want to listen? The moment where they are willing to share and we are willing to not only hear but really listen? And perhaps more importantly, how do we learn to shut our mouths and use only our ears instead?
With three kids now in their teen years and one not far behind, I’m in continuous search of ways to be a better listener. Here are ten ways I’ve learned to listen more and speak less. Ten ways I’m working to remember that these little people I am raising, who admittedly aren’t so little anymore, are individuals separate from my own self.
- Take advantage of certain times of day when we know our children might be willing to share. Bedtime? Snack time? Look for patterns throughout the days of moments when children are really willing to open up. The times will vary depending on each child.
- Remember that it doesn’t take a lot of time, rather it takes a concentrated effort. If you are worried that you have to stop everything in order to listen, remember that it might just take five or ten minutes. Five or ten minutes that can bring about a lifetime of connection. If you’re really concerned about time, tell them you only have five minutes. Then set the timer and let them have at it.
- Find situations where you don’t have to be face-to-face. Sometimes kids open up way more if they don’t have to look their parent in the eye. The car is the perfect place. Or late at night when a child wants to talk and you’re really, really tired, tell them you’ll lay on the floor and listen with your eyes closed. Interject a word here and there to let them know you’re still paying attention.
- When your children are talking about concerns, stop whatever you’re doing that might interfere with listening. Really stop! Put your phone down and turn screens off and really and truly listen with body, mind, and spirit. If you’re only willing to give them half an ear, then you’ll only receive a half-hearted story.
- Express interest in what they are saying without being opinionated. This is a hard one, especially if they are sharing something painful. As parents, we want to fix it and make it better. But that’s not always what they want. If you’re dying to give input, ask first. It’s simple. “Do you want ideas on this?” Goodness knows that parents have an abundance of thoughts.
- Listen to their point of view, even if it’s difficult to hear. Remember that they are them and you are you. It’s important to view your child as an individual because they’ll feel respected and not feel like you’re trying to control their every movement.
- Let your child complete their point before you respond. Even then, respond slowly and remember to ask if they want feedback or just an ear. Assume this could change from moment to moment. And if they shut down don’t take it personally. Instead of getting upset, choose to handle things with a different approach at a later time.
- In your own words, repeat back what you think they’ve said. This not only lets them know you are actively listening, but also allows you to make sure you are interpreting everything correctly. If they feel dismissed, they will dismiss you—instantly and completely.
- Talk to them about things going on in your world. By sharing the ups and the downs, the desires and the misses, they learn the art of listening too. It’s important that your conversations are not only about deep issues or concerns. Knowing their opinions and views on other topics will help you gain a perspective on their individual personality.
- Find ways to engage everyone at meal times and other gathering times with a question that gets everyone talking. Go around the table one by one so everyone gets a chance to practice speaking and listening. Share the highs and lows of the day. Share something you’ve accomplished this week that you’re proud of. Discuss your hopes for the coming week, month, season. Or choose a prompt from my new book, Look At Us Now: A Creative Family Journal and record the answers for posterity’s sake.
If we want a lifetime of connection, we can start putting the pieces in place now! So that down the road when someone asks our children, “Who ya gonna call?” They just might answer, “My parents!”