Dear Caring Parent, 

Let’s grow how we are listening to our children differently. We parents often say, “You’re really suggesting I listen more to my child?  All I do all day is listen to them! They are screaming, whining, speaking their words of wisdom (or not), talking up things that are of no interest to me like how their poop goes down the toilet, or how tired they are when I know they stayed up on social media ’til who knows when”.  

Our ears are done! And then along comes some parenting aficionado (like me) saying that it’s important for us to listen to our children. Mute that button! “I want to be listened to,” we say. “I wouldn’t be so worn out if my children listened more to ME”, we also say. All of this is for real. And even wearying. What I have to constantly remind myself and others is it’s really about listening differently. 

Why Listening Differently to Our Children Is Important

It’s legit when parents question you’re really suggesting I listen (more) to my child? It highlights for me where are this listening differently should start. It should start with parents being heard first. Ideally this would be by surrounding adults, especially those on our parenting team (they’re involved in our child’s growth). 

In reality, that’s not happening a lot. This makes sense because we live in a culture where listening skills are not taught and discussed (my first introduction to listening was in college). Not having an understanding of listening leaves people arguing “I AM listening!” when they hear “You’re not hearing me!”.  Also, it takes time to listen and we are a hurry, scurry society that doesn’t add up the resultant time it takes when we don’t listen.

I think about my relationship with my daughter, the parents with whom I engage, and why it’s been so important to learn to listen differently. Because listening differently:

  1. reduces arguments like the “I AM listening” one above.
  2. improves our mental health and the mental health of our children.
  3. enlivens problem solving with our children, helping to grow their self confidence and independence.
  4. helps us meet our needs if there is mutual listening in our home environment. Even by getting better at listening to ourselves, our needs are better met and parenting is MUCH more fulfilling.

Listening Differently is a Skill

In fact, our listening skills undergo ongoing refinement. They start with our innate capacity – some people seem to be born listeners and others are born doers and talkers. They continue when we become intentional about growing them. Whether born a listener or not, the wonder of it all is that everyone can enlarge their capacity by honing their skills over time. 

The first several years of parenting exemplifies our ability to grow our capacity to listen – we discover our babies’ cues and how to respond to them. Sometimes that’s natural to us, many times learning happens to figure it out. That learning has to continue as our children age. As we progress, listening then cycles into our children’s skill repertoire.  

Listening to our children starts with knowing it is good to be heard on a deeper level – that listening is valuable to their and our wellbeing.

Many times it starts with noticing some things about ourselves. Like that we hold tension when we bypass unspoken important feelings, questions, or reactions. Or when we repeatedly want to say something but aren’t saying it. Tension can come from the opposite, saying it but feeling unheard. Listening differently starts with noticing that whatever we are doing isn’t working! And the opposite, what is working. 

Listening differently is about listening for themes in what is being expressed; like friendships, identity, fitting in, having a say. It’s also about listening for verbal and nonverbal cues about mood regarding what is being expressed; like sadness, disappointment, loneliness, overwhelm, joy, or confidence. Listening is permission to feel! Marc Brackett talks about this in his excellent book Permission to Feel: Unlock the Power of Emotions to Help Yourself and Your Children Thrive. Dr. Marc is easy to listen to! And down to earth.

Next-steps for Listening to Our Children Differently

I write about a L.O.V.V.E. process in my book The Dance of Parenting. Using it, I suggest the following for next-steps in listening differently to our children. Pick a scenario not going well for you:

  1. Listen to yourself – get thorough by noticing how parenting experiences show up in your body, thoughts, and feelings. For instance, “When I’m angry about being late I tighten my arm muscles, my thoughts go furiously through my head about it and I don’t much like my child/partner.”
  2. OM on it! If what you are reflecting on is super agitating to you, it’s good to find your way to get out of agitation and into a calmer place. Running, dancing, writing. What works for you? Mindfulness? 
  3. Voice it! How are you saying anything about it now? Play around with basing what you say on your Vision of what and how you want to be while expressing what is on your mind. Or maybe base it on your vision of what it is feels like to be heard. Ask yourself if this is something you want to say but have a lot of feelings about, so need to spend some time envisioning, imagining, yourself as you express it? 
  4. Explore it. Look around for people who listen well to their children. What do they do? You can also read about how to listen. It helps to think about when you felt really listened to, or not.

Listening is an art, as many point out. We get to keep paying attention to it. I know I need to! Does it make everything perfect? No, but better, even during the tougher times. Does it mean you’ll never have to say ‘no’? No! What it does is make your relationship with your children more connected even in those years when they naturally disconnect more from you. It also grows your world – there is nothing dull about listening!

Take care now, Natasha

p.s. In total transparency, I am an Amazon Associate – linking you to items I use and want to share with you because they support your parenting and your personal or family goals.