Have you ever regretted cutting your child’s long story short or dismissing a child’s need to talk because you were preoccupied with something else? Have you ever grown impatient waiting for a child to finish their long-winded description of a picture they drew or all the things they know about dinosaurs because you were so very busy?
Most parents aren’t in the game for too long before they find themselves collecting moments they’re not proud of.
We parents can easily lose sight of our true priorities in the face of obligations, responsibilities, and extreme fatigue. We know, however, that being present for our children, respecting their need and desire to share with us what they’re thinking and feeling, showing them that what they have to say matters to us, and choosing to give our precious time to them over finishing the laundry or returning emails is what we truly value most.
We want our children to know that we’re always there for them, that they should openly share their hearts with us in safety and comfort, and that we love them. Impatience, discomfort, and, if we’re honest, simple selfishness can get in our way.
There are ways to improve our listening skills, however, for the sake of our children. Here are some ideas to consider.
Recognize the MomentWhen you’re rushing from one task to the next, frantically checking off your to-do list and dreaming of the moment your head may actually hit the pillow if you just get all of these things done, you may not even notice that your child is trying to share something with you. You don’t want to let life pass you by like this.
Take steps to simplify your life, slow down, and notice when it’s time to give your undivided attention to a child who wants to tell you all about what she just read in a book or show you the intricate details of the lego vehicle he just designed. Incorporate more simplicity and slowness to enjoy the ability to be more present with your loved ones.
Remove DistractionsIf the television is on or you’re listening to something, turn it down. If you have your phone, put it away. If you’re in the middle of a task, stop. Maintain eye contact with your child and give them your complete attention.
See the World Through Their EyesHave you ever looked back at a photo or video of you with your child and realized that their perspective in that moment looked different than you recalled it? That sort of “third party” view can be helpful in recognizing your child’s view of things. Remember their age, their level of curiosity, their need to learn and express themselves, and their desire to connect with you. Practice empathy and compassion as you improve your listening skills with your children.
Be PatientOh, patience. What parent doesn’t wish for buckets more of it? When your child is going on and on about every minute detail of every single character of their favorite superhero universe and you are wondering if this universe has any limits, stay put. Don’t cut them off, don’t interrupt, and don’t give in to the temptation to distract them with a cookie. Listen. Your interest in the topic of choice may not be high, but their interest is. If you need to encourage yourself, appreciate how smart they are to have gathered all of this information, how joyful they are to muster this level of enthusiasm, and how lucky you are that they want nothing more than to share this with you. Be patient.
Practice EagernessWhen your children come to you with a story, set yourself on the edge of your seat and eagerly take in everything they’re telling you. Practice resisting the opposing thoughts that are sure to surface about the dishes in the sink or the work project you’re behind on. Instead, aim your focus like a laser on that child and his or her story. Ask follow-up questions. Simmer in the moment. Overcome the resistance.
Resist the Urge to CritiqueThey may be describing a death-defying plan to jump their bike over a ravine, or build a messy, glittery, expansive metropolis that is sure to knock your kitchen out of commission for a week, but dare not squash their creativity or descriptive enthusiasm with your concerns. Listen with an open mind and a desire to understand whatever they’re telling you. Encourage ideas, wonder, and curiosity, and don’t allow yourself to be the force that pours a bucket of cold water over it all. If you have to talk them and their bike off a cliff, that’s something for another day. For now, hear them out; don’t shut them down.
Be the ExampleAs if you needed more reasons to listen well to your children, remember that you’re modeling excellent listening skills that they’re sure to mimic. The ability to be a good listener is a skill that translates across every aspect of life, not just parenting. The gift you’re giving them by improving your listening skills stretches far beyond actively engaging in their conversation.