HOW TO LISTEN TO CHILDREN
By Carolyn Warnemuende
The spiritual practice of listening from the heart is one of the most powerful relationship-building tools we have. When we feel heard and understood, we know we are accepted for who we are in that moment.
Jesus our way-shower spoke about those who have “ears to hear.” He was talking about people who listen with an open heart and mind so that they receive understanding. Giving the gift of understanding to another enhances the relationship and helps the other thrive.
When asked what they most want in a relationship, many say they want to be heard, to be understood. That is what our children want too. When we learn to listen for understanding, we have “ears to hear” the message behind the words that are spoken. Parents who have developed the skill of listening effectively to their children find that greater harmony reigns in their family.
Effective listening requires intention and attention. Our greatest desire must be to deeply know our children and to understand where they are coming from. We must be willing to take time to listen with full concentration. Effective listening comes from the heart as well as the mind.
As parents know, children will use most any method to get attention when they want to be heard. This can even include yelling or throwing a tantrum. Their reasoning goes, “If I can’t get Mom or Dad to listen to me when I talk in a regular voice, maybe this will work.” Usually this is not a conscious choice but a cry to be listened to.
To develop strong, positive relationships and avoid unnecessary conflicts, the following ideas work well:
Stop. Look. Listen. When your child wants to tell you something, take a moment to stop what you are engaged in, make eye contact, and listen wholeheartedly. When you give your full attention to the interaction, your behavior says, “What you have to say is important to me.”
Reflect. After your child shares feelings or concerns, repeat in your own words what you have understood. Often the message is couched beneath the words used. For example, if she says, “I don’t ever want to go back to that stupid school again,” you might say, “It sounds like you had a hard day at school. Do you want to tell me about that?” If she says, “No,” accept that and don’t push. More than likely though, she will elaborate on what happened because she knows that you heard her and care. Reflecting joyful feelings also opens the door to further conversation. Other times you may want to judge the message you’ve heard. Judging closes the door. When she feels judged, it will be hard for her to trust that you will listen to her in the future.
Acknowledge. After you and your child have had a successful conversation, acknowledge the experience. Saying, “Thank you for talking to me, I liked listening to you,” can be enough. It’s important for each of you to recognize how significant being heard is, and it encourages future interactions.
Listening to children with “ears to hear” is a spiritual practice that takes practice. As the skill is incorporated, you will begin to feel a different sense of connection with each other. As a bonus, your new way of listening will broaden to include everyone in your life. Listening deeply is a spiritual gift that enriches your life and the lives of all those with whom you come into contact.
Rev. Carolyn Warnemuende is minister at Unity Church in Redding,