Sometimes we get so caught up worrying about how we will talk to our children that we forget to listen! Yet, listening can be very powerful. I think that children, like adults, have a very strong need to be truly heard. Not only heard for what they are saying on the surface, but for the feelings behind their words.
In our busy lives it’s too easy to become preoccupied with all our responsibilities and only half-listen to our children. It’s also natural to want to fix our children’s problems by jumping in with a solution, distracting them from their upset, or helping move them through their pain quickly by “looking on the bright side.” And who can blame us? What parent can bear to see their child frustrated or hurting? Other times we don’t listen because we feel helpless—we don’t have the answer and we’re scared we can’t solve the problem. So instead of staying present, we quietly panic and focus our attention on what we’re going to say next.
We repair, teach, and analyze instead of just listening with an open heart. And yet we need to be aware of the power of being heard. I know just how cared for and loved I feel when I’m heard. My experience is that is when the healing takes place. Listening is often enough—more than enough.
What a relief! We don’t need to have all the answers and we’re not always responsible for making our children happy or fixing their problems. The pressure is off! We don’t have to worry about not knowing what to do or say. We can simply trust, be present, and tune in.
Of course, for me, this is often easier said than done. It helps when I think of myself as a channel for inspiration or a vehicle through which a higher good operates in service to my children. I remind myself that my role is to support them in being the most of who they are—not my idea of who they are or should be. And listening can help us get there. I may step back, let go, and allow them to be—mostly by just getting out of their way.
To help me really listen to my children I use a skill I learned at the University of Santa Monica called “perception checking.” The idea is to respond by essentially repeating what a person has said to you. For example, you would say, “If I am hearing you correctly you are saying… (and then paraphrase what your child said). Is that what you are saying?” Or with a younger child you might help them articulate the experience, “you are really upset right now because he took your ball.” It is amazing how far this practice will take you. Just by reflecting your child’s words, you will watch as she solves her own problem or works through his feelings. Or perhaps, your child does not come to a resolution but the hurt passes or the crisis resolves because the experience of being heard itself was healing.
I find that listening really brings me into the moment. And it is in these little moments that our relationships are further developed and strengthened. Listening to our children is such a gift—for them and for us!