Listening to Understand

Listening to Understand

When we communicate with our children, are we listening to resolve what they’re saying? Are we listening to them to be a commentary with them or sometimes blaming them, saying, “If you would have done this, you should have done that?” Why didn’t you?” And sometimes, when I know I’m very guilty of this, I’ll say, “I appreciate what you’re saying.”

Speaking with Eric on my show yesterday, it really made a difference to hear what he was saying about this habit and to really understand: are we listening with empathy? Are we listening to our kids when they’re talking to us in regards to the feelings they’re having when they’re talking to us? What is their body language saying? What is their tonality saying? Is this something that they’re concerned about? Is this something they’re angry about? Is it something that they’re sad about? Is this something that they’re confused about? And then checking in with this, going back to the first habit, are we being reactive or are we really just taking the time to understand their model of the world, where they’re coming from, and how we can best support them?

Sometimes, just being able to listen to them and rephrase, like paraphrase, what they’re saying instead of saying, “I appreciate your saying that,” Say, “This is what I hear you telling me; what I hear you telling me is that you are concerned, whatever that is, that you’re not going to do well on your spelling test or that you don’t know your math well enough, and you have a test, and it’s kind of scaring you.” Give them an opportunity to respond, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying” or “No, Mom, no, that’s not what I’m saying at all.” Respond, “I apologize; I’m not hearing you right, so help me understand what you’re saying to me.” And when they tell you again, paraphrase it: “So this is what you know I hear you saying.” Once they agree, you can ask them, “How could I support you?” “What can I do to help you feel more confident in taking that test in math or that spelling test?” “Is there a way that I can help you study?” “Is there someone I need to call?” “Do I need to get you extra tutoring?” Like, “What specifically can I do to support you?”

Think about a time when you were having a conversation with your child and things just weren’t going great, like it ended up being more of a power struggle. In my show yesterday, I was talking about how my daughter and I constantly have this battle on Fridays because she goes to a school where they wear uniforms on Fridays. It’s dress-down day, and my daughter already has a lot of sensory issues with what she wears. In her mind, as I have taught her, our outside reflects what our insides are feeling in that moment. She comes back and says, “Well, my insides are saying I feel comfortable.” Her idea of “comfortable” is wearing the play clothes that she goes and paints in or plays in the dirt, in gardens, and all that. My idea of “comfortable” is not that at all. Talking to her coach, I created a different strategy where, “These are your clothes for school, going out to dinner, you know, going to a friend’s house, and these are your clothes for painting, digging in the dirt, gardening with your dad, and building things in the garage with your dad.”

She still has choice, and yet I’m guiding her to teach her that there are different situations in which we dress differently. As her parent, it is my job to guide her in understanding that so that when she is an adult, she has a fair opportunity to make the right choice for her. We have planned out the night before what she wears, and unfortunately, she likes to change that at the last minute on Fridays, so we have this combativeness. Like my friend Eric had pointed out, sometimes that comes from me being rushed, like we got to get to school, we were supposed to be in the car, and now we’re sitting here arguing about your clothes, that we already had situated, and so we go back and forth. What I have realized is that I am not understanding her with empathy; I’m not hearing her through empathy. All I am concerned about is getting them to school on time and me to my next appointment on time, so I feel very rushed. Rush is the emotion I’m feeling in that moment, which is guiding what I’m saying, what I’m thinking, and my actions and behavior. 

Now, I have a new tool to really be present with what I’m feeling, let go of it in that moment, and really hear what she’s saying. Understand what she’s saying with empathy: “What is she feeling about it?” Have a healthy discussion so she can appreciate where I’m coming from as well. I know I talk a lot about how we can appreciate where our kids are coming from and how we can create an open, safe, and trusting space for them so they feel heard, seen, and appreciated. We, as parents, need that too. Us parents need to know that our kids, at any age, understand what we’re saying. That is why we communicate differently when they’re one, when they’re five, when they’re 16, and when they’re 28. There are just different ways we communicate because our brain is able to understand us in a way that’s more mature or equipped for what we’re talking about.

I can totally relate to the fact that, as a parent, I want to be appreciated and understood. It’s modeling that for them, so our kids will learn from what they see us do and what we model on a consistent basis, and that’s why these are called habits. So pay attention to the next conversation you have, and this is even with your partner, your spouse, a friend, and your boss. Be mindful of how you’re listening. Are you listening to respond? Are you listening to your emotions? Are you listening to understand where that person’s coming from to have good, clear communication?


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