Really Listening

This post is part of the 30 Days Towards Connected Parenting series.
Really Listening to Kids

One of the biggest factors in a good relationship is communication. People that make you feel good are those who you know value what you say, understand you, really listen, and accept you. We want this for our kids too! However, the way children are viewed in society means that a lot of the time we are so dismissive of them. We don’t communicate with them as respectfully as we would with another adult. To develop that close connection that’s going to help us in our parenting, we need to concentrate on how we communicate.

Stop and listen

This is really common courtesy. When someone talks to you you stop and look at them and listen. Life is busy though, especially when you have more than one child wanting something at the same time! Sometimes we’re in a rush to get things done and our kids end up talking to the back of our head while we unpack the dishwasher. It happens to me too. I’m really trying to focus on this point though. What is more important in this moment? The dishes, or my child feeling heard and valued? My child, always. So when they talk I try to stop what I’m doing and give my full attention.

Really Listening to Kids

Show you understand

Sometimes it’s hard for little children especially to get their point across, and we may misunderstand or assume we know what they mean. I always try to reflect back what they’ve said to be sure I’ve understood properly. Sometimes I haven’t and they explain again, or sometimes I have and they understand that I have heard and acknowledged them.

Validate concerns

Children want to be taken seriously. When they’re upset because the blue cup is in the dishwasher sometimes we’re tempted to minimise their concerns. Really, is having a green cup instead of a blue cup that big of a deal? Can’t you just drink the water! But to them it does matter. These are the big things in their life. They’re learning to make their own decisions and express what they want. We shouldn’t make them feel silly for this and convey that what they think isn’t important. Instead, validate their concerns, empathize, and let them know you’ve heard them.

Really Listening to Kids

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” – Catherine M. Wallace

Accept feelings

It’s hard to listen when a child is upset. We love them and we want to make it better! But sometimes in our quest to ‘fix’ things we stop our child from learning how to deal with their emotions. And we send the message that they shouldn’t express themselves because how they feel makes us uncomfortable. We tell them ‘it’s ok’, ‘you’re alright’, ‘don’t worry about it’, or try to distract them from how they’re feeling. But they are allowed to feel sad. Happiness isn’t the only acceptable emotion. And if they don’t know that we can handle their big feelings they will be less likely to come to us with them in the future. Instead you could say ‘you seem really upset’, ‘that really hurt your feelings when x happened’, ‘you’re angry because of x’. Then comfort them until they have calmed down. This way they know that their feelings are valid and accepted and have practice in how to regulate their own emotions.

Changing the way we communicate with our children is one thing we can do to form a deeper connection with them. Connection can either be nurtured or damaged by how we listen and respond to our children. Overall we want them to feel heard, respected, and valuable. We can show them this by how we listen and talk to them.

What has been the hardest of these for you to overcome? For me I would have to say accepting feelings. It’s hard to see them upset and not try to distract and fix it as soon as possible.

30 Days Towards Connected Parenting

10 thoughts on “Really Listening

  1. I cannot tell you how much your posts mean to me. You are such an inspiration. I love that you word things so well – it allows me to send these posts out to the world to tell family and friends why we do things a specific way.
    Thank you so much!

  2. Thanks for this! As I may have mentioned before, I don’t have kids myself (yet), but I do have two toddler-age nieces that I love. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes in their behavior to just talk to them when they are upset, and to figure out what is going on, rather than yell at them or tell them to go time-out!

    I do have one question though: what do you do when a child is so upset that talking seems impossible? At some point last week, hanging out with both nieces at the same time, both wanted to play with the same doll at the same time. We tried to get them to share, but that proved really hard. Inevitably, one or the other was screaming when the other was playing with the doll. Getting down on their level and talking to them about it was suddenly no longer possible because they just kept yelling and crying about wanting the doll, regardless of what I said. What would you do in that situation? Just looking for feedback from someone who likely has more experience with this kind of thing than I do ;-).

  3. I agree that it’s hardest to deal with big feelings without distracting. Especially my daughter’s. They are huge and offset with crying jags that might last an hour, depending on how much sleep she got the night before. Hugging works great, though I’ve burnt a few things for how long it takes. Sometimes nothing works at all, and it’s frustrating. Then I often feel terrible that we’re taking so much attention away from my son, essentially ignoring him while she’s upset. What to do, what to do…. Same question, always.

  4. This is wonderful! The whole series! Thank you so much.
    I also use (or try to) humour when things get tough, or instead of getting upset. It helps my six year old appreciate the silliness of what he has done, correct it if possible and all with a smile. And I smile too! Sometimes I admit it is not easy when anger takes hold, but a short breathing and presence of mind and a smile comes naturally.
    Thank you once more.
    Kenza.

  5. Pingback: What Is Respectful Parenting? | Happiness is here

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