“I don’t want to…” “It’s boring…” “I hate it…” Chances are you are no stranger to these statements. And most of us respond with some sort of “just get it done, get over it, or so what” type of statement. Seems normal, right? But this is a key parenting mistake that’s easy to fix.
However, if this is a common conversation for you, you are actually disconnecting with your child. You’re teaching them that their emotions don’t matter and that they can’t come to you for support when they are feeling emotional. They don’t learn how to ask for what they need or want. But, it’s not your fault. We’ve been taught that responding immediately to someone shows that we’ve been paying attention. But it means we’re making the conversation about ourselves and not about the person who is talking. We listen so we can say something, solve the problem, answer the question… that’s all for our own ego. Yet, mishandling this key area of emotional support for your child is linked with an increased chance of them experiencing depression, anxiety, aggression, low self-esteem, substance misuse, or appearing indifferent.
Thankfully, there’s an easy fix to this common parenting mistake that you can start doing immediately. Rather than listening to respond, listen for emotions. You listen for how they are feeling based on the words they are saying (or not saying) to figure out what’s really going on.
So here’s what happens when you listen for emotion, listen from the heart:
Child: I hate homework. It’s boring and useless.
Parent: Sounds like you had a tough day and are feeling frustrated or done with school right now. What feels challenging about that assignment?
Listening from the heart shifts the conversation away from you and keeps it on them and their experience. By doing this, you acknowledge how they are feeling or help them name how they are feeling which means they feel seen and heard. And, these conversations open the door to really understanding what’s going on for your kid. Perhaps, their disgruntled-ness has nothing to do with homework at all and they had a bad day at school for other reasons. You would have missed the opportunity to connect with them because your initial focus was on homework.
Here are three ways you can remember to listen from the heart in any conversation:
- Use Playback: Before you respond with your ideas, playback what emotions you’ve heard. Use their words as much as possible “I can hear that you are really frustrated about the work you are doing.” This acknowledges their feelings first and gives them a chance to correct you if you didn’t get it right.
- Ask Questions: Ask open-ended questions to uncover how they are feeling about a situation. “What else can you tell me about what happened today?”
- Be Present: Being present doesn’t mean sitting face to face making direct eye contact. Actually, direct eye contact can be intimidating, especially to children. Being present means that you are not really thinking about other things. They can feel that your energy is focused on them.
You can start listening from the heart immediately. It may feel awkward at first if you are not used to talking about emotions, but it’s worth it! Imagine what it would be like if there was less drama in the home because your child openly shared what was going on with them. Because you didn’t have to guess what they were feeling. Because you were confident that you can be the trusted person who would hold their emotions gently and help them understand what they were feeling.
Looking forward to hearing how you’ve overcome this common parenting mistake and how things have changed for you as you listen from the heart. You can share your experiences in the comments below.