The Difference Between Listening and Hearing your Child
Kids talk… A LOT… sometimes I wonder if they just like hearing their cute little voices. My daughter loves to talk and usually I listen, but I don’t always hear her. Listening can take on many faces and change with the age of your child.
Listening to a four-year-old obviously looks different than listening to a 13-year-old. A four-year-old is more likely to be satisfied with an occasional “uh-huh”, “yeah”, “wow”, “that’s cool”. A 13-year-old may be ok with those minor suggestions that you’re listening but are more likely to call you out for not really listening.
If we are being honest, we probably don’t really listen and actually hear what our children are saying most of the time. It requires a lot of energy to listen close enough to know whether or not your child is saying something important. And viewing something as important could look totally different between a parent and child’s perspective.
If your child is anything like mine, they may not be satisfied with occasional comments that suggest you’re listening. Some children are very sensitive and aware and know when you’re really hearing what they are saying.
All children need to feel heard. And hearing our children can provide valuable insight into their needs and desires. Below is a great quote from “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck:
“True listening [hearing], total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love. An essential part of true listening is the discipline of bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.
This unification of speaker and listener is actually an extension and enlargement of our self, and new knowledge is always gained from this. Moreover, since true listening involves bracketing, a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the other.
Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener.”
Sorry for the long quote… it is just too good to shorten.
What parent wouldn’t want to make their child feel valuable and safe enough to open up and express their thoughts, desires, and emotions. As a counselor, I’ve seen several circumstances where children of varying ages don’t feel comfortable opening up to their parents.
It always comes back to an experience the child had where they tried to express something important to their parent, but they didn’t feel heard or understood. Therefore, they feel too discouraged to even try again.
We won’t do this perfectly the first time, so if that initial discouragement is experienced by your child it can be overcome. But it will take effort and continued reinforcement that you are listening and hearing what they are saying.
We can hear and validate what our children are saying even when we don’t agree. Because let’s be honest, sometimes our children say ridiculous things…
Like if your child were to say: “you’re too harsh on me.” A response could be: “I hear you saying you feel like I am too harsh on you. I’m sorry I make you feel like that. What would it look like for me to be less harsh? Or what do I do that is too harsh?”
This opens further dialogue between you and your child. You can just listen to your child and continue to repeat back what they are saying and ask questions without justifying why you are “harsh”.
Doing this will create an open space for your child to express their frustration and feel comfortable doing so. You may also gain some great insight into how your child could be best parented.
Our children are a great resource for us as parents if we create the right environment for them. Don’t be afraid to learn from your child, to devote the energy to truly hear what they are saying, and to be open to changing your parenting techniques based on the unique needs of your child.
Hearing our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them, and can have lasting impacts on their self-esteem because when they feel heard they will feel valued. And our children need to feel valued!