One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is to listen to them with an open heart. When I was teaching first grade, I found that many issues a child dealt with could be easily solved by listening with an open mind and heart.
Children need to have someone who will always be on their side. That doesn’t mean that they always get want they want. What this means is that the special people in their lives will put down whatever they are doing if they are in distress, and be with them to help them solve their issue. This is done through careful thoughtful listening, often referred to as “active listening”. Often times, younger children show their distress by acting out, and they may just need someone to set boundaries, keep them safe and love them through their tantrums.
The art of listening and parenting evolves as your child grows. It should never be static. As humans our wants/needs and abilities to communicate change over time, but one thing remains the same. We all long for authentic loving communication with others. We all have the need to be heard.
As your child leaves toddlerhood, and begins to be able to communicate with language, the art of listening is critical to help them to continue to grow their language, and learn to trust others and themselves. When you are really listening to someone, you are with them. You are making eye contact, facing them, (leaning in) and you are quiet. You give the speaker a chance to say what they need to say. If you don’t understand, you ask questions for clarification. You paraphrase what you think the speaker is saying to check for understanding. Once the speaker verifies that you do indeed understand what they are saying, then you can offer support, advice, etc as needed. Often all the child needs is to know that someone hears them. They may need a hug, a smile, or they may need to be told why it is that they can’t do, have etc whatever it is they are seeking. Don’t give advice unless they ask. Usually you can lead them to a thoughtful conclusion by asking leading questions. How empowering for a child to be able to solve issues they may have!!
IF you find that you are worn out with active listening because it always ends up with your child begging for something, then you need to shift the conversation. Sometimes you need to just say “no” and move on. If you pay attention, you will learn quickly when a situation calls for active listening and when it calls for a short, sweet response. Even “no” can be said with kindness.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with my Granddaughters who are 4 and 2. I learned much in listening and conversing with them. My four-year old (she is four going on 20) is going to take me to the nail salon when she learns to drive. When tucking her into bed at night I said , “good night, I love you”, to which she replied….”good night my love”. I keep playing that over in my head and it brings a smile to my face every time. The two-year old is becoming very skilled in asking for what she needs. She was able to communicate her needs in times of stress (potty training) and times of play and joy! “Blow bubbles with me Grandma.” When a two-year old asks you to blow bubbles, take some time and blow some bubbles. It really is quite magical.
The art of listening will help both you and your child. As you are practicing, you learn patience, kindness and SO much about your child. You will also learn about yourself if you pay attention to how it is for you when you are working on being an active listener. Do you find yourself wanting to rush to resolution….do you find yourself wanting to check your cell phone…..do you find yourself uncomfortable with your child’s pain…..do you find yourself wanting to minimize your child’s feelings…..do you find yourself not even hearing what your child is saying as your mind is off somewhere else??? Notice these things and work on your skill. We are all works in progress – all the time! But the benefits of really listening are well worth the effort! Your child learns acceptance, compassion and trust. For no matter what they have going on they are learning that someone will be there to help them through it. Once they hit their teens, you will be glad this trust has been established. One of the greatest benefits of all is that your child is learning valuable skills to help them in all of their relationships as they move forward in life. Our world needs some compassionate communicators. It starts at home.