“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” said Steven Covey, the man who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This is certainly the case when it comes to many parents (including me). So what is it that stops us from fulfilling the seemingly simple task of listening?
Make the conscious decision to listen
Well, we’ve got a lot going on – paying the bills, walking the dog, figuring out what to cook for dinner, clearing up, blah, blah, blah. It’s never ending, isn’t it? So when our children speak to us, there is a ton of stuff we have to move aside in order to hear them. It’s a conscious decision we make to listen, so stop what you’re doing, look at your child and take the time to hear what they are saying. (You can ask them to wait a few minutes, if that will help you concentrate.)
Model good listening so your children learn how to listen to you
Listening to your child tells them a lot. ‘You are worth hearing, what you are saying is important enough for me to stop what I am doing. I respect you and your feelings.’ By doing this for them, they are more likely to do it for you. Modelling good listening is the best way to encourage respectful relationships, where family members listen to each other.
We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are
So how long do you wait before you reply? It’s longer than you think. Having successfully moved aside the external distractions in your life (cooking, TV, etc), you’re going to have to move aside the internal distractions. These are commonly known as filters; and they are based on your age, gender, where you’re from, how you feel, what you believe and the situation itself. All your filters influence how you perceive and interpret what you’ve heard.
Anais Nin (writer) was right when she said, ‘We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.’ The aim then is to listen to your children with no agenda of your own. This is their time and their space to tell you what’s going on for them in their world. Try to see their world as THEY might be seeing it.
Here’s how to listen
When you begin to listen, suspend your judgement. Don’t tune out because you think you know what’s coming. In fact, practice listening from a position of ‘not knowing’. Even if you think you know, listen as though you are hearing it for the first time. Don’t interrupt and don’t feel like you have to fill the space. Acknowledge that you are paying attention by maintaining eye contact, nodding and saying ‘mmm’. Accept that what you are hearing is true at that point in time.
Empathy, with an ‘as if’ quality
Offer your child empathy – try to put yourself in their shoes. Empathy goes far beyond sympathy; it’s how you understand what your child is experiencing AS IF you were feeling it yourself – ‘feeling with’ not ‘feeling for’. Use your own words to summarise what you think they might be saying and don’t be afraid to get it wrong. They’ll correct you.
If they are talking about something you find difficult to hear, try not to lose the ‘as if’ quality of empathy. Remember that they are separate to you and are bound to have different opinions and ideas. Be careful to avoid offering your opinions, judgements and evaluations until after they have finished. Listening before replying is important because you must try to understand BEFORE you can be understood.
Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator and a mum of two teenagers. www.parentingclass.co.uk She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children (toddlers to teenagers) by using evidence-based communication skills. Her next Open Programme starts in April, 2018. She can also offer Parent Coaching by Skype. This blog was previously published in the Family Section of the EDP on 9th March, 2018. If you’ve got a question for her, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org