It makes listening, particularly listening to your child, hard.
It’s hardly arguable that folks are more comfortable posting their thoughts on FaceBook or Twitter than they are in holding an actual conversation with another person, face to face. It is far easier to quick send a text, tweet or message than it is to carve out time for coffee and a personal visit. It can be argued that in today’s culture, people are losing the ability to be social.
As parents, we may have seen evidence of this in today’s teens. How many times do we hear “Teenagers today! They have no respect!”
If we look around, we can see evidence of the lost art of socializing everywhere.
Not just with teenagers. Watch the interactions of adults, on the subways, busses and trains. Check them out in the park, at the café, or waiting in line at the grocery store. Take a look at couples, out for dinner. What are they all doing?
They are on their phones.
This lack of socialization does not end with teenagers or adult relationships, however. It gets carried over, in to our own homes; in to our relationships with our own children.
One daycare in Texas noticed.
Parents were coming to pick up their children, cell phone in hand. Little kids are GREAT at living in the moment. They do not get sucked in to a virtual world as easily as the rest of the population. And when mom or dad, the MEGA STAR of their world, comes to pick them up, they can hardly contain their excitement.
But mom and dad are busy texting, talking on the phone, or checking out social media as they walk in to the daycare.
And the child is crushed.
When we think about building a relationship with our children, there are some basic skills that need to be practiced, day in and day out.
Listening to your child is one of them.
These skills used to come easily to parents. But with the distraction of technology, these skills have been lost, overlooked or discarded all together.
Much like the lost art of socializing.
How many times are you on your cell phone, while your son is trying to tell you about his day? Do you put your phone down and look at him while he talks? Or do you nod, say “uh huh” and keep clicking away?
At the end of the conversation, do you have to look up and say, “Hey, what?!?” scared to death that you just absent-mindedly agreed to something you shouldn’t have?
But that’s not my specialty.
My specialty: Follow me if you want to talk to me.
I literally make my kids follow me around the house while I work, if they want to talk to me, because I am far too busy to stop and listen. They follow me while I sweep, while I put away laundry or pick up toys.
I’m listening while they talk. But do they know that?
Why? Because I am not following the basic skills of conversation:
– I have not stopped moving around.
– I am not looking at my child.
– I am not maintaining eye contact.
– I am not nodding or giving other nonverbal signs of understanding.
– I am not paraphrasing back what I understood.
– I am not asking questions or giving comments, to keep the conversation flowing.
In essence, I am not showing my child that he is the most important person in my world.
I am showing him that a clean floor is far more important than he is.
How many of us do this every time our child talks? I have six kids; all who want to talk to me, repeatedly, throughout the day. And I have a mountain of things to get done. I know I do this. Do you?
How to Listen to Your Child
To be an active listener, you need to do the following:
- Put down whatever you are busy with and hold still.
- Look your child in the eye throughout the entire conversation.
- If your child is much smaller than you, get down on his level. Kneel, squat or sit next to him. If getting down low is hard on you, then pick him up, hold him in your lap, or put him on a counter or stool, so he can see your eyes.
- Clear your mind of any to-do lists or other things that you should be doing right now and focus solely on what your son is saying.
- Nod or shake your head when appropriate. Laugh, smile and use other hand/face/body gestures, where appropriate.
- Change your tone of voice to match the flow of conversation – use high-pitched, excited tones when he is sharing something he is excited about, and low, slow, soft sad tones if he is upset and needs reassurance.
- Repeat back to him what you heard him say, in your own words. “So you feel sad because Jonny took the stick you were playing with. That’s why you hit him?”
- Ask questions or offer your own comments, to show that this conversation is important to you. “Wow! I love the picture you painted in school today! Tell me more about this spot of blue!”
- To seal the deal, throw in some casual touch if appropriate – a hug of reassurance, a tousle of the hair if he is being silly, or a kiss on the cheek if he is being adorable.
It’s not hard to do. Actively listening to our children used to come easily for us, as parents. Before life became so busy for us.
Start slow. The next time your son or daughter wants to talk, simply stop what you are doing and maintain eye contact. After maintaining eye contact for a few conversations, slowly start adding some of the other skills listed above in to your conversations.
When you become an old pro at actively listening to your children, use these skills with everyone else in your life. We’ve all heard of those special people that “always make me feel like I am the most important person in the room….”?
This is how they do it. 🙂