I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. – Robert McCloskey
When your kids open up to you do you instantly begin to think about ways to advise, judge or lecture them? If you want your children to feel comfortable talking to you about their lives, listening, really listening, is key. Try the following:
- Zip it. Let your kids vent uninterrupted. No matter how much you disagree, are shocked, or dislike what they are saying, zip your lips. Just listen.
- Put your gizmos away. Turn off all electronics when they are talking to you. Give them your full attention.
- Empathize. Try to put yourself in their shoes as they are talking. As you listen, occasionally summarize their feelings, “You think your teacher is being unfair. That doesn’t feel right to you.” But even just an occasional “Really?” or a “Wow!” shows you are interested.
- It’s about them. Resist the temptation to tell stories about yourself unless it’s extremely relevant. If you must tell a related story, make it short and bring the focus right back to the child.
- I repeat, zip it. Do not offer advice right away. Let them get all their feelings out and then, if necessary, you can brainstorm some ideas on how to remedy the situation.
- Be sincere. If you truly cannot listen to your child at the exact moment they need you and it’s not an emergency situation, be honest and in a loving way explain that you are occupied at the moment but you will make time in a few moments (for younger children) or later in the day (for older children) to sit with them. Be sure to follow through.
Listening makes our children feel worthy and loved, gives them the opportunity to solve their own problems, and builds our relationship with them. As an extra added bonus, through our modeling, it teaches our children to listen – a skill everyone needs in life.
by Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator