If you’ve ever watched a child storm off in frustration at your lack of understanding, or been accused of not listening, then you know the challenge in really hearing children. Here are a few tips to help smooth the way in your household:
Make eye contact as often as possible when your child speaks to you. It’s easy to be distracted by a computer or smartphone screen, especially when a child has interrupted you. If necessary, ask them to pause for a moment for you to finish up what you’re doing in order to give them your full attention.
Ask questions. Whether the conversation concerns what happened at school, or an issue they have with a playmate, we can inadvertently miss hearing what they’re saying by assuming we know what’s up. Taking the time to delve into the circumstances allows you to overcome those assumptions to better hear what your child wants to communicate.
Look for the emotions beneath your child’s words. Sometimes kids believe they aren’t being heard because they haven’t developed the vocabulary to tell us what they’re feeling. By mirroring back the emotions you perceive (“that sounds frustrating”), you not only express empathy and understanding, you also equip your child with words to describe their emotions.
Withhold judgment until you have gotten a clear picture. This becomes especially important when it comes to sibling disputes. In some cases, one child may be better at “selling” their side of the story and so the other regularly takes the blame. Watch for those tendencies and your own prejudices. There’s nothing like an unfair judgment to make a child feel unheard. Try taking each child aside and listening to their version without other input.
Create a regular context for your child to be heard. Cuddling before bedtime and reviewing the day cultivates a sense of security and allows your child an opportunity to open up.
“Hearing” our kids means giving them attention. It means investing in our relationship with them and recognizing them as individuals with unique viewpoints and responses to the world around them.