A key to successful parenting is the Art of Listening. Kids know when adults are paying attention to them and when they aren’t. Half hearted listening gets picked up automatically and causes them to feel as if what they are saying doesn’t matter. As a parent you have to be present in the moment. Give them your attention and your time. Those are the most important gifts you can share with your children and often the hardest.
When you are really listening, you can pick up on what is going on with your child, because sometimes it is not what your kids are saying, but how they are saying it, or what they are trying “not to say,” that is important. When you are only partially paying attention you may miss something valuable that your child is trying to communicate to you! And when you miss it, in most cases that chance is lost forever.
1. Being in the Moment
The Art of Listening is about really being in the moment and being present. Letting go of what you didn’t do yet today, what you need to do later, or what needs to be done tomorrow. All of those things will get taken care of in due time – but being there, listening and really communicating with your child is more important than the small details of life.
2. Listening Fully
Listening requires not only the use of your ears to hear, but your eyes to see, your mind to interpret what is really being said, or not being said, and most importantly your heart, to feel what your child is trying to share with you. Children can sense your interest, respect and compassion coming through. They want to feel more valuable than the phone you have to answer, the work that you have to do, and the other people that are demanding your time.
This is one of the main reasons children open up to me when they come to see me at my office. They share their most intimate thoughts and feelings because they sense I am interested, I am genuinely paying attention to them, and I won’t interrupt them. It is amazing what I can find out that many times parents aren’t even aware of. That’s because the right environment hasn’t been provided to let their child open up, or they have allowed a breakdown in communication to occur.
3. Free Flowing Communication
The Art of Listening requires being there for your child, and having an open relationship with free flowing communication.
One example of a breakdown in listening is when one person is not truly into the conversation. In the past I would call my cousin on the phone to get caught up with what had been going on in her life. She lived over one thousand miles away from me so it was hard to see her in person, but I would try to catch up with her via the phone. However, every time I would call, our conversation would be constantly interrupted. She would stop in the middle of a sentence to yell at her kids, tell them something, or give in to their interruptions. This made me aware that she wasn’t really paying attention to what I was saying, as she was divided between me on the phone and her kids in the room. We never really had a free flowing exchange.
Although I love my cousin and wanted to share my thoughts with her, as well as find out what was going on in her life, it always seemed to leave me feeling dissatisfied and eventually it didn’t seem worth the aggravation. I perceived my conversations with her as having an empty feeling attached to it. Soon I didn’t want to pick up the phone and call at all because I knew the experience would not be worth it.
Another example of a breakdown is communication is with my mother. I can remember growing up and trying to tell her about something that happened in my life. But as I tried to share, she would constantly interrupt me to interject something of her own that may have nothing to do with what I was trying to say. Then my train of thought would be lost, and in some cases I would just walk away believing that she really didn’t care to hear what I wanted to share. Finally, I gave up trying to share anything of significance with her. I felt that she was never paying attention. Later on in life, after I became an adult, she asked me why I never confided in her and we discussed the problem. Today she is so much better!
4. Deep Listening
Connecting on another Level -- Today’s kids want to be listened to and they want desperately to have a deep connection with someone. That someone should be you. Without that connection, they feel that no one understands them and they are going through life feeling as if they have no one to count on but themselves.
Kids are looking for adults they can connect with. If someone gives them the attention, love and support they need, they will always be loyal to that person. Hopefully, it will be you, as their parent, or a wonderful teacher that can help them succeed in school!
Parents tell me they put aside dedicated time with their child. But what I find is that if may be at the end of the day, when their kids are too tired, or they are too tired. The other time is when they pick up their child from school. Yes, it is a good time to talk, catch up and find out about their day; however, kids know when they are on a “time clock.” They know that as soon as they get home, their time with be interrupted, so they don’t bring up what may be important because it will take longer than the “clock” allows.
One thing that I recommend is to spend a full day together, just you and your child without trying to fit them in between appointments. They need dedicated time with no phones, no appointments, and no interruptions; no one else but you and your child to just enjoy being together. It is during this time that you may learn the most from your child because they know you are there for them, interested in them, and you are open to talk. DO NOT have your cell phone turned on because if it starts ringing, that will shut them down!
"...kids want to be listened to..."
I once encouraged a mother to take a day off from work to hang out with her eldest daughter, just the two of them, and to really share dedicated time together. She agreed and thought it was a good idea, but she never got around to finding the time. Suddenly one Saturday she had to go into her office. Her husband was already taking their youngest daughter to an event so she asked her eldest daughter if she wanted to go with her to her office. She couldn’t get over how excited her daughter was to be able to spend that “alone time” together, even if it meant just going into her office, just her and her daughter. Here the mother was thinking she was going to the office to do some work and her daughter thought she was getting to be part of her mom’s world. It is the perception of the moment.
When the mom explained the experience to me later that week, I was not surprised and encouraged her to think of other ways that she and her daughter could have “moments together.”
5. No Interruptions
Sometimes listening just requires time away, where spontaneous interactions can occur without schedules, interruptions and the demands of the world.
Some of the best times of my childhood were when my parents used to take me and my brother camping. Throughout my childhood we always had an RV. My parents started with a small one and as I grew, so did the sizes of our campers. Camping was the best experience because there was no television, no telephone, and no outside interference. It was just me, my brother and my parents. We would talk, cook dinner together, play cards, and tell stories. It was during those times that I felt I had them all to myself and they were really listening to me.
Is there a special day that you could plan with just you and your child? Is there a way that you could find some alone time to connect with your child and block the world from interruptions? What adventure could you plan with your child that allows fun into your relationship and allows free flowing communication?
Remember, the art of listening is a major tool for keeping that communication flowing with your child.
Tracey Thibodeau Serebin Tracey Serebin is a Family Coach and Founder of A Child’s Voice located in northern New Jersey working with kids, parents and families. She is a family dynamics and communication specialist with over 15 years experience. She has published two books 101 Questions for Expectant Parents: Preserving your Relationship through the Transition and Searching for Inspiration on the Infertility Rollercoaster. She hosts a Radio show entitled Family Matters on WebTalkRadio.net and conducts motivational seminars across the country.
www.TraceySerebin.com or 888-261-7177.