5 Barriers To Effective Listening As A Parent …
… And How To Turn This Around To Become A Great Listener!
In our fast paced society, trying to keep up with what’s going on with our children can feel like an impossible task and another area where we’re simply setting ourselves up to fail. All too often, we criticize ourselves for not getting it right. Although we wouldn’t intentionally communicate to our children that other things are more important than them, it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and for them to think that other things are more important.
Because the habits creep in, we get caught up on the hamster wheel of life and invariably feel like a terrible parent for not being great at listening to them. Breaking out of this cycle can be hard, but if we succeed by pulling down these barriers, it will often help us regain our true priorities and will definitely help equip our children with a better understanding of themselves and others.
So what are some of the barriers that stop us being effective listeners?
Barrier #1 – We’re not available
Other ‘priorities’ demand our time and trying to fulfil all of these, robs us of any spare availability to stop and take time to listen. The mundane tasks of everyday life can easily be prioritised over spending time listening to our children. A habitual cycle develops where another day passes, which turns into a week and so on. There’s always something to do or somewhere to be. We might have listened to the information being shared, but listening to the things that are important to our children can be overlooked because it requires space and our full attention.
Become a great listener by creating specific times to spend with your child when they know you’re available just for them. Every month book a slot in your diary for one-to-one time with them. It’s often helpful to organise going somewhere so that you can’t be interrupted. It doesn’t have to cost anything or be for hours at a time, even a walk together will be beneficial.
Barrier #2 – We get distracted by other things
Being able to multi-task is regarded as a desirable quality in most areas of life, but it isn’t a helpful skill when our child wants our full attention. Stopping to respond to a phone message or hurrying to get out of the door to get to the next scheduled event, won’t help our children to feel valued. Let’s face it, there are plenty of things that can distract us as we try to keep on top of all the demands.
How easy is it to become at the mercy of our technology, responding immediately to the sound of a notification or ringtone? It’s not our intention, but somehow that sound is able to get our attention almost immediately!
Become a great listener by giving your child your full attention. Allow them to speak without you taking over the conversation. Focus on them by using positive non-verbal gestures, such as eye contact and nodding. Ignore phones, notifications and other distractions when your child is in the middle of talking to you. Even just stating that you’re going to give them your full attention for 15 minutes (and then sticking to it) will help them to feel valued.
Barrier #3 – We’re quick to correct
So we finally get the chance to sit down and listen and then our child tells us something that they’ve done that we really didn’t want to hear. Instead of listening to them, we get drawn into correcting them and focusing on the one piece of information that we’re not happy about.
Become a great listener by finding ways to ‘bite your tongue’ so that you don’t focus on what your child might have done wrong. Remember you don’t have to be right and they don’t have to be perfect! Sometimes all they need is a safe place to offload. If you’re too quick to correct them, they won’t want to offload their worries with you.
Barrier #4 – We go off on a tangent
A conversation begins and they say something that triggers a connection in our brain, before we know it we’re downloading all those other things that we’ve been waiting to talk to them about, or worse still, the list of things we’re not happy about. Before we know it, the ‘and another thing’ line comes out and what started out as a pleasant time to listen to them has now turned into a nagging session, listing all of the recent events we’ve been logging in our minds.
Become a great listener by Sticking to what your child wants to talk about. Don’t be tempted to throw in all the items on your agenda. Allow them some space to unpack what they want to talk about.
Barrier #5 – We want to solve their problems
Our child gets brave and tells us what’s been going on for them. Instead of calmly listening, our emotions immediately react. We can’t have that! What started out as a brave step on their part sharing a situation, has turned us into the justice police or the project manager. We get caught up in our own reactions and offer all the solutions of what needs to be done to sort it out.
Become a great listener by listening, not fixing. Most the time, people want to feel listened to and understood, children are no different and generally need to know their feelings have been validated. When given a framework to problem solve, they will usually come up with their own ideas for managing a situation.
Being available to listen in these ways creates an environment for children to properly share. Even the simplest things about them can change regularly (such as their favourite colour or the dynamics in their friendships). Most children love it when they know they’re going to get your undivided attention without competing with other people or other priorities and when they know they are safe to talk about anything without being corrected.