How are your communication skills, Mama?
“You never listen to me! You’re always interrupting me!” The little girl in line behind me at the Wal-Mart was screaming at her father.
I turned to look and immediately recognized an all-too-familiar sight: It was dinner time and the daddy was rushing around Wal-Mart with his two preschoolers trying to run a last minute errand.
The oldest, a girl about four, was clearly exasperated with her father’s inattentiveness. The youngest, a boy about two, was oblivious to the whole thing.
I had heard the same accusation from my kids on occasion. Fatigue, busy-ness, or just being tired of listening can sometimes close a parent’s ears and heart to their children.
“Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh,” I have said in response to some interminable story about friends or activities.
“And then she said….” A daughter would relate excitedly.
“Uh huh,” I’d mutter, about as attentive as the wall.
Sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to shut down. I am tired. I’ve been listening ALL DAY. In don’t want to hear any more blather.
Yes, on occasion, I have even said, “Honey, could you please stop talking for a bit?”
They would stop talking, but the sadness and disappointment on their face would speak volumes.
Active listening takes effort
Communicating with our children can be a difficult task at times. We feel like they’re not listening to us; they feel like we’re not listening to them. Good listening and communications skills are essential to successful parenting. Your child’s feelings, views and opinions have worth, and you should make sure you take the time to sit down and listen openly and discuss them honestly.
In contrast, have you noticed their beautiful faces when you look directly into their eyes, or hold them, drinking in every word they are saying? They light up and their lives and their stories shine through every cell of their being. You are really listening? You are excited about who they are and what they are sharing.
Life seems good for a child who is really listened to.
Responsive listening instead of reactive listening
In addition to plain old inattention, it seems to be a natural tendency to react rather than to respond. We pass judgment based on our own feelings and experiences. However, responding means being receptive to our child’s feelings and emotions and allowing them to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of repercussion from us. By reacting, we send our child the message that their feelings and opinions are invalid. But by responding and asking questions about why the child feels that way, it opens a dialog that allows them to discuss their feelings further, and allows you a better understanding of where they’re coming from. Responding also gives you an opportunity to work out a solution or a plan of action with your child that perhaps they would not have come up with on their own. Your child will also appreciate the fact that maybe you do indeed understand how they feel.
When we shut them off, a small door closes in their hearts. If enough of those doors close, soon their hearts will be bolted shut to us when we want them to talk to us or when they most need to talk to us. They will find someone else to share their lives with. A friend, a girlfriend, a boyfriend. That door will stay closed until they are ready to let us in again – maybe – after we have proven ourselves worthy of their trust.
If we listen – they will talk. We must listen in the NOW while they still WANT to share everything with us.
Active listening requires undivided attention
It’s crucial in these situations to give your child your full and undivided attention. Put down your newspaper, stop doing dishes, or turn off the television so you can hear the full situation and make eye contact with your child. Keep calm, be inquisitive, and afterwards offer potential solutions to the problem.
Don’t discourage your child from feeling upset, angry, or frustrated. Our initial instinct may be to say or do something to steer our child away from these emotions, but this can be a detrimental tactic. Again, listen to your child, ask questions to find out why they are feeling that way, and then offer potential solutions to alleviate the bad feeling.
Just as we do, our children have feelings and experience difficult situations. By actively listening and participating with our child as they talk about it, it demonstrates to them that we do care, we want to help and we have similar experiences of our own that they can draw from. Remember, respond – don’t react.
If we listen now, they will KEEP talking.