I want you to think about how you felt the last time you sat down with a good friend and poured your heart out to them. Maybe it was over a parenting or relationship struggle. Maybe something is going on at work or maybe you have a sick relative. Your friend didn’t jump in to solve the problem, they didn’t interrupt to tell you their even bigger problem, they didn’t minimize, or tell you to calm down. They just listened. Maybe there were a few carefully placed “Mmmhmms” or “Tell me more about that…” Silence can be just as effective especially if we are using what schools teach as “whole body listening” – turning towards the person speaking, eye contact, being still and having an open mind and heart. It is my great hope to do this for each and every parent I work with a peaceful parenting coach.
How did that feel? Did you feel closer to that person?
It feels so good, right? It’s the basis of connection. We all want to feel seen and heard. Being listened to is one of the biggest gifts we can give one another.
Now I want you to think about the last time you listened like I described above to your child. When is the last time you stopped what you were doing and really gave your child all of your attention listening to them tell you about something important to them? Most parents admit it’s not nearly often as they would like it to be. I hear all of the reasons why – “We have so much going on!” “I have four kids and they all talk at once!” “They want to talk about the most boring stuff!” “I am trying to juggle everything!”
Trust me, I get it. I have a highly talkative and highly imaginative daughter. My father likes to tease me it’s my comeuppance since I was his highly talkative and imaginative daughter. (Jokes on you, Dad, I make my living talking to people!) I don’t always want to practice deep listening to yet another story about imaginary cats or her plans for the future or about her latest Lego creation in minute detail.
Here’s the good news! You don’t have to always practice deep listening. If you are intentional about it, the research tells us 9 minutes a day of focused one-on-one attention creates connection and builds trust. Now I don’t think you should limit yourself to 9 minutes a day – we had children for the relationship we have with them. Demonstrating interest in our children’s lives pays big dividends both now and in the long run.
I love the quote: “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
Recently my daughter had a playdate with a group of friends. Over dinner that night, she told us, “So everyone wanted to keep a secret and they wanted to make everyone swear not to tell anyone – especially parents.” In my mind, I, of course, started to freak out. What had happened? What was the secret? She went on to say, “But I told them I don’t keep secrets from my parents because they want to know all of my thoughts no matter what.” I haven’t stopped thinking about that night ever since because we have spent her entire life listening deeply to the little things because they are all big things to her. Of course, the “secret” wasn’t a big deal at all – but 7 & 8-year-old girls have a flair for the dramatic. It wasn’t about the secret – it was about her trust in us and her knowledge we would want to know. Because we do.
How can you listen to your child each day to strengthen that trust and bond? Try just 9 minutes tomorrow. You can even break it up throughout the day. Work to really listen. Just listen. Then wait and see what happens.