I Didn’t Catch That: 3 Reasons We Don’t Always Listen to Our Children as We Should
As parents, we have a lot going on. Getting our children to school, soccer practice, music lessons, making sure they have been fed and bathed, and any other of a million tasks it takes to raise a child are things that are constantly on our minds. This doesn’t include the stressors we have as adults, such as bills, work, relationships, debts, and anything else that likes to pull us in opposite directions. It’s a busy world that tends to busy our brains.
Unfortunately, the busier we get the more we tend to overlook some of the small, important details that come with being a parent. One of those details that is the focus of this post is listening to our child. We expect others to listen to us, and deeply appreciate those that do. As parents, we know that listening to our child is key to building our relationship with them, but a question worth asking yourself is how actively are you listening to your child?
A lot of times when we get caught up in the busy world, we hear our child rather than listen to them. What’s the difference? Hearing is picking up on pieces of the message that is being sent and formulating responses immediately. How effective is our listening if we are already formulating our response while they are still talking? You guessed it, not effective at all.
Hearing is only grasping what our child is saying on the surface level. Our attention is not truly attuned to what they are saying and we only acknowledge the parts we heard or that seem pertinent to us. Every one of us as parents has been here, but the key is we need to limit how frequently we do this and replace it with listening.
Listening is not just hearing the words; it is seeking for a deeper understanding. We are trying to understand the person’s experience and message rather than just hear the words. This type of listening takes a lot more effort and attention on our part, which is why there are times that we put it off more than we should. However, the relationship it can help you build with your child is more than worth the investment!
Not every situation in our lives is within our control. However, some things become barriers to us listening to our children that we can do something about. We are going to address three common reasons that get in the way of us truly listening to our children. These three common obstacles are things we can do something about, as long as we are willing to put in the work.
Keep in mind, the more we listen to our children, especially with the things that may not seem important to us but are to them, the more likely they are to come and talk to us about the big things. A lot of times our children test us with what seem like trivial things to get an idea of how we will respond. If we blow off the small things consistently, they will avoid coming to us with the big things. Actively listening to your child is one of the best ways to make lasting deposits in your relational bank account. So, let’s dive into some of those reasons we may not always listen so we can start doing something about it!
Reason #1: Electronic Distractions
We live in a world where technology has helped us advance as a society. However, there have also been some unintended consequences for technology. Most of us are attached at the hip with our phones or tablet, and just the ding of a notification makes our brains salivate like Pavlov’s dogs. We live two lives, our real life and our social media life. We can be in contact with someone on the other side of the world in the blink of an eye. In mere moments, we are alerted of sports scores, breaking news, celebrity gossip, emails, text messages, tweets and Snaps no matter where they come from in the world. All of this is accessible in something that fits in our hands.
While all that is amazing, the impacts it has had on our interpersonal relationships are not always as amazing. Whether we are the one on the phone or we have given our children one, they have become obstacles for true connection. This also means that they have gotten in the way of us being able to listen to our children truly. It is hard to be actively listening to them when our mind is waiting for that euphoric ding or vibrate to indicate a new notification!
Recent research has shown that the quality of interpersonal communication diminishes just by one person seeing a cell phone. For example, if we are sitting at the table talking to our teenager, and they see our phone sitting next to us, their perceived quality of this interaction has already diminished. We feel the same way when the person we are talking to has their phone visible, we start wondering if they are more interested in their tech rather than what we are saying.
Take the steps necessary to reduce the distraction that technology can be in a relationship. Set the expectation, and model, putting the phones entirely away when having a meaningful conversation. A lot of us parents are just as guilty at using technology as our children, and it is on us to show through our behavior the importance of setting it aside to foster a genuine connection with another human being. You will find in time that those emails and notifications can wait, especially when it comes to deepening your bond with your children.
Reason #2: Letting Our Emotions Run the Show
Children have the amazing ability to get our emotions running. Some of the things they do or say can take us from feeling proud to dumbfounded to angry in the blink of an eye. Also, because we love and invest so much in them, our emotional reactions are magnified and lead us to feel them even more intensely. So, what do our emotions have to do with listening?
The more fired up we get, the more directive we become. Instead of listening, we start to demand. Rather than asking for clarification, we start to tell the way that it will be. The funny thing is, we often do this before we even have the full story or know what is going on. However, since we are running on emotional energy, we feel correct and will hear nothing to the contrary. After all, we wouldn’t be feeling this intense if it wasn’t correct, right?
Well, that is not always the case. Just because we are feeling something so strongly does not mean that it is accurate. When we allow our emotions to run the show, we shut off the dialogue and resort to demands and lectures. This effectively ends communication, shows our children that we will not listen, and takes away from our relationship.
The truth is, our children are going to bring us things in their life that will stir up our emotions, such as drugs, sex, hating school, bullying, friends we do not approve of, or different political and social views. If we are unable to manage ourselves, how will effective communication take place over the topics that have dramatic impacts on the quality of our children’s lives?
We need to have a balance between our thinking and emotional brains. This will allow us to ask questions and try to understand fully what our child is bringing to us. We need to be ready for the fact that not all the conversations we will have with our children will be comfortable or inspire positive emotional experiences. However, it is not worth letting our discomfort or emotional reactions take away from our ability to listen and connect with our children. A genuine, deep relationship is one that takes the harder times in stride and uses them as a means to foster a deeper connection. That’s what will happen when we do not allow our emotions to run the show and we keep listening to our children rather than shutting the communication down.
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Reason #3: Our Ego Getting in the Way
It’s a Wednesday night and you and your child are in the living room enjoying a pleasant time together. You were able to get off work early and have had a chance to steal some extra moments with them. The conversation is going well until your child says some things along the lines of, “how come you are always at work and not home with me more? Do you even like me? I think you work too much!” How would you respond?
It might depend on the day and where you are at. If your emotions, as we already discussed, are on high, this comment will not sit well with you. Depending on what your work means to you, this might also put you on the defensive. You might start having an internal dialogue that starts ranting with statements like, “I do all that work for you, how could you be so ungrateful, I put food on the table and clothes on your body, every minute that of my life I am focused on making things good for you, how could you possibly say something like that?”
Ever have that dialogue in your head? This is not an unusual thing to have run through our minds, especially the more stressed we are. We dedicate a lot of time and effort and sacrifice many things for our children, and guess what, they do not fully understand it and will not until they are in a similar situation. First, take a breath, this is a normal feeling to have as a parent. Second, we need to take a look at what we are dealing with here.
As soon as we become defensive and start to have these types of thoughts, we are no longer listening. We will defend ourselves, and hear only the statements that give fuel to our fire. Our ego is starting to get in the way, because we feel attacked and want to defend ourselves. We feel this deep need to justify why we work or do the things we do.
Unfortunately, this approach tends to create distance rather than connection. Taking a few deep breaths will help us slow our mental rants down and we can start to wonder what our children are truly seeking in a situation like this. Instead of laying down the law, ask questions to understand what they mean. “You think I work too much, what does that get in the way of?”
When we set the desire to protect our egos aside, we will often find that our children are not trying to attack us; rather, they are seeking connection with us. Ask questions and try to understand what your child is expressing. It will not always be easy, and sometimes the truth might hurt a bit, however, the relationship you will have because of this will be more than worth it. You need to answer for yourself, is protecting your ego in a given moment worth more than creating a strong relationship? Depending on your answer, make the necessary changes to get closer to what you want in a situation like this.
A child who feels understood and listened to is more open to hearing feedback and alternate views. However, if we start expressing different views or providing feedback before our child feels understood, we will create a disconnect rather than connection in our relationship. One of the best ways to create feelings of understanding is by actively listening to our children. It is a process that requires our full attention and effort. When we invest in eliminating these three common barriers to listening, you will find you and your child rewarded with a stronger relationship.