“You’re not listening.” “You just don’t get it.”
Sound familiar? And what parents tell me over and over is, “I am listening, but . . .”
Think about it. How often do you find yourself opining, getting defensive, or lecturing? Maybe you’ve tried to talk your children out of their feelings or solve the problem. Possibly you’re just thinking, “I know better,” “They’re wrong,” or “It absolutely did not happen that way, and I need to set them straight. Right now.”
I hear you, but . . . (ha, get it?!)
We haven’t all been taught listening skills, so it’s completely parent-normal to “listen” with the intent to respond rather than the intent to understand. We may be listening but not, in fact, hearing. And kids (in fact, most of us) know the difference.
Many think “accepting” and “agreeing” are synonymous. They’re not. Acceptance means that you are aware of what your children are saying, accepting of their perspective, and appreciative of their situation. It's respecting their thoughts. Agreeing means you have the same opinion.
Child: “The coach never plays me. He doesn't like me.”
It can feel scary to accept what our children are saying; we might feel as if by accepting their perspective, we’re going to agree with their “wrong” opinion.
"I’m listening but that's not true—there are lots of kids who don't play." (making them feel better)
“I’m listening but I saw him put you in after the half." (arguing about what constitutes playing time)
"I’m listening but I'm sure the coach likes you—everyone likes you." (opining)
“I’m listening but you need to work harder if you expect to play.” (lecturing)
If we can drop our agenda for a minute, there’s a great opportunity to jump in with both feet and show them that you do understand, you do “get” them, you do accept their perspective.
"Getting stuck on the bench is the worst."
“Sounds like you think the coach is favoring the other players.”
“Games aren’t as fun when you’re stuck on the sideline and you’d rather be on the field.”
Why it Works
When we can demonstrate to our children that we truly understand what they are thinking, their brains will release oxytocin and other reward chemicals. Literally! And sometimes children just want to be upset (seems reasonable enough); those same reward chemicals show up when we wholeheartedly join them in that uncomfortable-ness (my term).
Maybe they’ll clarify that being on varsity feels overwhelming or maybe they’ll share that they haven’t been doing well in practice recently. You won't know until you let them tell you. And once you’ve earned that trust, they’ll be open to your ideas, opinions, and infinite wisdom (okay, so the infinite wisdom piece is a little sarcastic).
Your ability to accept your child’s thoughts and feelings builds not only your bond but a path to resilience. When children feel accepted, they have an easier time recovering from let downs, upsets, hurtful experiences and harm. They feel connected.
When you accept your child’s feelings, you’re not agreeing with their feelings; you’re acknowledging that they feel how they feel, which soothes, opening up a safe space for sharing and earning trust.
GOT A MINUTE? Look for one opportunity today when you don't agree with what your child is saying and make a commitment to have a short conversation and accept what she's saying. I repeat accept, accept, accept in my head to keep myself from butting in!
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