Ten things they’re saying you’re not listening for: How to listen so kids talk (Pt 3).
There’s ten things our kids say that we tend to miss because we aren’t listening for it.
Our child’s squabbling, demands, cries, screeches, rants and raves have a way of forming survival filters in our hearing – which have the unintended effect of causing us to miss some amazing stuff they sometimes say.
I’ve already admitted that I suck at listening. Then I rubbed my nose in my own incompetence even more by exploring why really listening to our kids is paramount.
Theory and guilt aside, it’s time to get practical.
Hearing is a little like seeing. If I say, ‘look for anything with a red colour,’ suddenly everywhere you look, you see red things. (Credit given to your brains’ search engine, the RAS.)
Surely the same works with listening? Search and you will hear.
Ten Things To Listen For.
1. Listen for their individuality.
A month ago, I asked Eli (7) what he liked to do at break-times. He didn’t answer, so I suggested an answer. Hanging with your friends? ‘Dad, that is sometimes the last thing I like to do. I like to get on my own, and just enjoy the peace.’ In that moment, I realized just how little peace he has in his life (with four siblings at home), and how much this boy is an introvert who needs to regularly recharge with solo-time. Listening for tip-offs like these are critical for parenting our kids in their uniqueness.
2. Listen for their fears.
I have written before that when our child responds negatively to our leadership directives, rather than even more strongly asserting our authority, sometimes we should stop and listen. This is not a way of abdicating leadership, but rather rooting out their (real or imagined) sense of injustice. As William Nichols puts it in Stop arguing with your kids, ‘The battle of wills is won not by surrendering yours, but by making your child feel heard’. Sometimes, there may be a fear or concern underneath a kid’s defiance. Until that issue is addressed by being heard, and responded to, it will be very difficult to enlist their real cooperation and trust.
3. Listen for their invitations.
While writing this post, Ivy (3) asked me to come play with her and her tractor outside. In the blur that is this chaotic season of life, I often try to get out of these moments. No honey, just now… Go ask your brother to play with you… Dad’s busy, maybe later. But this time, I accepted her humble invitation to play and I’m so glad I did. As I crouched over that tractor, I realized it’s been a long time since she invited me to play a game with her. And I got thinking, All too soon, there will come a day when she’ll stop asking me to play with her; these moments are gold.
4. Listen for their stories.
The tractor game with Ivy evolved into what her granddad calls one of her ‘big stories’. The tractor crashed and made a fire that burned the garden. And the trampoline! And the pool! And there was just nothing but … sand! And on and on it went as she (before my very ears) developed her fledgling story-telling abilities with facial expressions and gesticulation to go.
5. Listen for (and enjoy) their humour.
Earlier today, I stubbed my toe and jumped up and down howling. Eli, who acts similarly when in pain commented, ‘Oh, I see where I got that gene from!’ At the time I didn’t appreciate the quick connection he made, the mild self-deprecation implied nor his empathetic attempt to lighten the situation. But on reflection I’m delighted he has the basics in place to create 1000’s of laughs later in his life.
6. Listen for their vulnerability.
While on holiday, deep in a book, I distantly heard Ivy saying something about her lost doll. Someone will help her find it. She has plenty of dolls. Luckily her next words penetrated my distant mind: You are making my heart sad, dad! It dawned upon me that her language had just moved from demand to vulnerability – a rare moment. Miss those moments, and there will be less of them in the future.
7. Listen for their perceptions of reality.
Three years ago, Eli showed Fynn two pictures: one of Julie’s brother overseas and another of my deceased dad: Fynn, here is Uncle Gwant. He lives in London. And here is Gwanpa Ivan. He lives in Heaven. Both places – equally distant to these two little boys, and yet, both equally real. Listening in on their perspectives of life not only enlarges my own, but helps me to connect with them where they are at and gently guide them into ever-deeper truths and realities too.
8. Listen for their interests.
As a young kid, I endured 100’s of awkward conversations initiated by well-meaning adults. I only remember a few where these people really connected with me. In each case it was because they asked me about my interests: What’s your favourite yo-yo trick? What kind of skateboard is that? How’d you learn to climb over that wall? As adults, we often are not really interested in little kid’s interests, but they are as real and rich with insight as our own. We just need to ask the right questions and then be ready to listen.
9. Listen for their questions.
While writing this point, Fynn pelted me with a series of questions: Are you clever dad? (Yes) What’s 1+1? (2) And 2+2? (4) And 4+4? (8) And 8+8? (16) What did I first ask you? (What’s 1+1). Wrong! You’re not so clever hey dad! Mind-numbing questions aside, sometimes our kids will ask the profoundest questions, like this one Eli asked a few months ago half way through dinner: What if we’re really not real? What if we’re just a dream in God’s head? Often times, we may not have the answers to our kid’s most penetrating questions about life and its meaning. But validating their questions is always better than dismissing them. Or worse – not hearing them at all.
10. Listen to what they’re not saying.
Dr Les and Lesie Parrot in The parent you want to be write: ‘We can’t overstate the value of mastering the skill of listening for your child’s feelings. Learn to listen with ‘the third ear’. Hear what your child isn’t saying. Every parent can hear words, but the attentive parent goes beneath the surface, especially when listening for feelings.’
Under a tantrum or cry is a usually strong unspoken negative emotion. Sometimes it’s pure mutiny, but sometimes it’s I need more time with you. I’m exhausted. I feel abandoned. I feel scared. I just can’t get it right. Do you care? When we listen with the third ear we often realize they’re not (as we tend to assume) giving us a hard time. They’re having a hard time.
In the final two posts in this series, I will explore when to listen and how to listen.
Also published on Medium.