by Stephanie Partridge
In my high school drama teacher's classroom, he had a large banner over the blackboard that said, "In order to be a good conversationalist you must first learn to listen."
It has stuck with me and I have tried to apply it in my own life.
But what I hear from kids so often is that they feel their parents don't listen to them – and they wish they would.
The art of listening, it seems, is dying a slow, agonizing death.
And it's our kids who are bearing the brunt of it all.
As we move into the new year, why not make listening one of your new year's parenting resolutions. Resolve to bring the art of listening back to life. Resolve to listen to your kids. It is an endeavor well worth pursuing.
Listening, though, is not a natural skill. Listening has to be learned. It is not necessarily natural or instinctual. But, it was Epiictetus, the Greek philosopher, who said, "God gave man two ears but only one mouth that he might hear twice as much as he speaks."
Our kids really need our two ears. We really need to listen to them.
Try these tips for being a better listener:
Listening takes time. Set aside some time so that you won't be interrupted. It is also important that your child knows that he or she is important enough for you to give them your time and undivided attention.
When it is possible, sit down to listen to your child. This shows your child that you are committed to listening to them. It also helps with your concentration.
Give yourself and our child privacy. Close the door, turn off the television, turn off your phone. Your child deserves your undivided attention and privacy.
Let your body language show that you are relaxed and ready to listen. You want to give your child a comfortable, safe place to talk – and show that you are listening. Don't cross your arms or twist your legs in a defensive posture. Instead, be open, relaxed and loose.
Listen with an Open Heart and an Open Mind
Open both your heart and your mind to your child. They may (and probably will) say things that you don't really want to hear, or that make you uncomfortable. The things that they say may go against your own beliefs and even values, but your child deserves to be heard and recognized as an individual. But don't pass judgment on them. When they are telling you their innermost feelings, that is the time that you should just listen.
When you and your child sit down to talk, concentrate totally on what your child is saying. Don't think about what you are going to say, just listen to what is being said to you.
Show that you are Listening
Face your child and actually look at him or her. Make eye contact, nod your head slightly and even verbally respond from time to time. Just make sure that you show your child that you are actually listening.
This does not mean that you should talk at length, but instead say things like, "I see," "yes," "I understand." You can even just nod and say, "mmmhmm" and "ah." The important thing is to show your child that you are actively engaged in listening to them.
No matter how your child is presenting something to you or how much they seem to stumble over the words, suppress the urge to interrupt them. You have to give them space and allow them to say things their own way in their own words at their own pace. A good practice is that when you feel the need to interrupt, nod your head instead. Now is not your time, it is your child's time. Just listen.
Most people get very uncomfortable with silences, but you can't try to fill them in when you are talking to your child. For one thing, by just waiting through the silence, you allow your child to continue with their train of thought. For another, people tend to be more revealing, more forthcoming, when they are allowed to work through the silence, composing their thoughts and knowing that you are listening.
When your child says something and you want to ensure that you have fully understood what they are trying to say, reflect it back to them. You can say, "So, what you are saying is…" This way, you can get clarification and you know exactly what your child is talking about. Plus, they know that you are not only listening, but also seeking to understand.
Make Time – Sooner Rather than Later
Let your child know that they are important to you by making the time to talk to them. Don't put them off for any longer than you absolutely have to. In fact, do your best to rearrange your schedule , making your child a priority. That project at work will be there, the hair appointment can be rescheduled and that game of golf can be played any day, but one day you will look around and your child will be grown and gone. You will have missed your chance. This time right now is precious. Make being with your child and listening to them a priority.
Love, Love, Love
Listen to your child with not just your ears, but with your heart and mind as well – and always, always listen with love. Don't judge, don't criticize, don't berate. Just listen and just love them.
Close Your Mouth
There will be a time for you to talk, but that time is not right now. Right now, it is time for you to close your mouth and listen.
Your world is busy and stressful. Many days you feel as if you are pulled in a myriad of different directions. Believe me, I know. I am a single mom and I have to be both mom and dad to my kids. Somedays the last thing I want to hear is another human voice. But it is my job to be there for my kids so I stop being selfish and turn my attention to them. I listen to their day, to their dreams, the funny stories that they tell me, their problems, their fears and their stresses.
And you know what? I learn a lot about them.
Stephanie Partridge: I am a mom, not just to my three terrific teenagers, but to the entire neighborhood! On any given weekend we may have as many as 9 or more kids (not including my three) staying over at our house – and they all call me Mom. I am also blessed with a wonderful husband who married us all and moved into the dad role with an ease that is awe inspiring. We live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with our three pit bulls, Chihuahua (who rules the house) and two cats. I am currently pursuing a psychology degree so that I can counsel young people and incorporate therapy dogs into my practice.
I believe that parenting is more than just raising kids, it is about raising adults who are productive critical thinkers. I believe in asking questions about Life's hard questions and finding the answers together. The world is a much different place than when I was growing up. It is harder, rougher and presents many more challenges for young people and it is up to us to help these kids find their way without giving them all the answers – let them discover them on their own. When I was pregnant with my first child I was standing in line at the post office. The man in front of me suddenly turned and asked me, "How can you in good conscience bring a child into this messed up world." I looked at him and answered, "If we don't bring children into this messed up world, then who is going to straighten the mess out?"
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