Learning to listen- really listen - to your not-so-little children is undoubtedly a challenge. As children grow up, the ways you need to listen and communicate are different, and can sometimes require changing your habits.
Not sure where to start? You're not alone! Most parents struggle with relating to their adult children as adults! But learning some basic skills can make a tremendous difference.
Keep reading for a few simple changes that can improve the ways you listen to your children. These tools can also be great conversation points if you are currently in or considering therapy.
Understand and Respect their Boundaries
One of the most powerful ways you can express that you are deeply listening to your children is by listening to them when they set boundaries.
As your children grow up and their to-do lists get longer, they may need you to show up for them in new ways. Sometimes, that can mean showing up less or at specific times.
The best way to find out your child's boundaries if you are unsure? Ask them! What do they need from you? When do they need space?
For example, your child may be experiencing stress at work and need to set aside specific time to catch up with you. They may need to vent to you on their way home from running errands or dropping their own kids at school. This simple question shows that you support your child's boundaries and care that they feel heard.
Discussing and respecting boundaries is a foundation of how to deeply listen. It's easier said than done, but respecting your child's boundaries is one of the biggest ways you can show deep, meaningful listening.
Clarify Your Role
When you speak with friends, family, and especially children, it's normal to want to fix any problem or challenge they may be facing. After all, we don't like to see the people we love having a hard time, so it makes sense that we want to jump to action! However, this immediate jump to problem-solving can make your child feel like you aren't truly listening to them.
When your child comes to you with a problem, try a new tactic to show them that you want to be there to listen to them. Try asking, “Do you want me to solve this for you, or do you just want me to listen?” This question demonstrates how important it is that they feel heard and understood.
It can be helpful to remember what helps you feel heard and listened to. If you see a counselor or therapist, notice how they listen to you and consider how that feels.
Set your own Boundaries
We've all been there-you're mid-conversation with a friend or family member and realize that they are completely checked out of the conversation. You may feel frustrated, angry, or resentful that they haven't been listening to you.
We can't deeply listen to those around us, including our children, if we are burnt out. Paying attention to your own cues and needs helps you listen better to those you care about. If you are feeling burnt out, it may be wise to set boundaries with your children. This way, you can give them your full attention and listen in the ways they need.
Next time you have a busy day ahead and know you won’t have time to listen, you may want to reach out with a text to check-in. It can be simple - "Hope you have a great day - I am busy at work today and won't be able to check-in. Can we talk tomorrow afternoon?"
Setting boundaries models healthy communication and a focus on optimal mental health. It is beneficial for your children, and it supports your own needs as well. You can't pour from an empty cup, and can't listen well when you're overwhelmed!
Final Thoughts on Listening Deeply To Your Children
Listening deeply to your children is a learned skill. It’s okay if it takes time, practice, or support from a therapist or counselor. Noticing the ways we are not actively and intentionally listening can be one of the most valuable tools in growing our listening skills.
Next time you find yourself listening on the surface, check-in with yourself. Are you respecting your child's boundaries? Are they respecting yours? And how can you take part in the conversation as an active listening partner?
These small changes can make a world of difference in the way we listen. At the Mental Health House, we recognize the importance of taking baby steps for growth and progress. We are here for you and your loved ones. Contact us today to learn more!