Learning to Listen to Children…

Stop crying… it is not worth it… calm down… don’t be disappointed…

These are words I have been hearing many parents tell their children, these are words I have been told myself as a child. I was 14 years old when I finally figured out that my mother has never listened to a word I ever said, never felt a tear I have shed, nor sensed any of my emotions. She has dictated, ignored or tried to control my sentiments all my life. In hindsight, it is the easy thing to do specially when you are a non-empathetic person. Believe me anyone with non-empathetic parents would tell you’re the same.

My husband does the same with our girls now; their crying or whining drives him insane that he starts yelling for them to stop! I always think to myself; seriously you think that would help!! They would either stop out of fear or a hysteria of sobbing and whaling comes out… and, for goodness sake, if they do not cry at this young age, when would they ever be allowed to.

Today my five-year old was trying to tell me something but from all the weeping I could barely hear what she was saying, then she did tried to calm herself down a little bit just for me to understand… her father came to us in tremendously fuming steps, angry enough that you can feel the heat of anger rushing before him… Stop crying about taking a shower… I told him but it’s not about the shower… he screamed again then why is everything in a crying tone, why are you crying all the time!!

I do understand that most parents are only trying to protect their children and/or calm them down. No one wants to see his or her kid hurting, it’s painful. I also understand that sometimes their crying or fury or tantrums gets so frustrating that the caregiver would want to scream their lungs out for them to just to be quite. But never in the history of anything has telling a child to not feel sad or stop crying ever helped! Also changing or dictating their reality does not yield any good. When a parent does that, they are uncompassionatly underestimating their little one’s feelings, senses and emotions and basically telling them to ignore their own feelings and depend on the parent or maybe someone else to know how they should be feeling. Exactly like telling a child that the water is not that cold, when they themselves feel that it is freezing cold, or that they should take off the jacket because the weather is not cold anymore. So instead of asking them how it feels to them, the outsider, from their own body, has decreed the temperature or emotion or expected reaction for them. Sadly, like myself, they will eventually grow up frequently needing outside confirmation about their own emotions and senses.

And, one of the best lessons of motherhood I have learnt from my little ones; is that if you want your child to listen to you, you first and foremost need to actively listen to them.

There are 100’s of articles and Books about listening to children, but here is my summary to myself and any interested parent from readings and experience…

Actively Listening:

We as parents should try to hear out their youngsters’ disappointments; no matter how trivial they seem for a grown-up… they are real for them. Thus, we ought to learn to actively listen to our children, not necessarily in an attempt to fix the problem, but to merely acknowledging the child’s feelings and perceptions and to make them feel heard, believed and understood. I really wish I ever felt that my parents accepted or respected my frustrations and/or recognised any of my dissatisfaction, and hopefully I am able to achieve that with my kids.

Active listening might be conveyed to the child either by non-verbal ways, like eye contact, kneeling down to their height level, nodding… something to show them you are actually listening to them and are interested in what they have to say.

Additionally, there are also many verbal methods in which you can make your little one feel understood and that you are actively listening to them: One of which is to paraphrase what your kid is trying to tell you in an attempt to make sure that you have understood what they are saying and for them to be sure that you have got it right! You can also check back with your children that you have accurately picked up how they feel, both emotionally and practically.

Kids are smarter than most us grown-ups think. From my experience, listening to the child’s perspective teaches us a lot and they most of the time know what they need and if you watch them closely they will teach you how to raise them.

Recognise their Feelings

I also wish that as grown-ups we do not tell their children how they should or should not be feeling. By saying words like… it’s ok, or it’s not that big of a deal… we are in a way ridiculing or underestimating how the child feels, but instead really we ought to genuinely show our children that we recognise that it is a big deal… for the child that is. We do not necessarily need to agree with whatever the child is saying or how they are feeling all the time, but mere acknowledgment is sometimes enough respect of their feelings. Mainly to convey to them that we accept that what they are undergoing is true to them and that we understand how they feel. As caregivers we should just stop ever trying to change their reality of how they feel and of course controlling their feelings even in the subtle of ways.

A child goes through ups and downs of frustrations and excitement throughout their day and it’s a roller coaster to them and probably to the parent as well, some of the feelings they understand and some of them they don’t, but by the age of two, a child probably can comprehend the difference between being happy and being sad. We can further help them out, but expanding their feelings vocabulary…

In addition, explain to them they are not alone in that feeling where yourself or others have felt what they are feeling or would react in that way as well had they been in their shoes. Sometimes all you little one wants to know; is that you or someone they know has been through the same experience/feelings/situation and that it is survivable. I’m no expert but I would suggest words like: “That makes you feel…” or  “It hurt/disappointed you that…“ or “It seems unfair that…” or “What you think might happen because of this is…”!

But most importantly Do Not Shame your Child for their feelings, or weeping or over-reaction!

Avoid interrupting them

I cannot count how many times I have heard a parent interrupt their child just because it is taking the little one too long to express what that need to say or are just rambling words that the story they are telling becomes so disorganized. Some adults start rolling their eyes, waiting for their youngsters to finish… and some think they know what the child is attempting to say, so they finish their sentence for them or they just decide to interrupt, shutting the kids off completely. Yes, they might be slow and they might not make sense sometimes and most of the time a parent does know what their little one is trying to express, but why oh why can’t we just be a bit patient and let the kid express his/her frustrations out without interruptions or judgment or evaluations.

Many times, in an attempt to speed the process, we tend to jump in with a bunch of questions, but what this does is interrupt their tiny brains and their own line of thought, change the situation from an emotional one to a practical one and in order for them to answer our questions, they jump from a feelings state to a thinking state!

So in short… just let them talk…

Take the Time

Taking the time to listen may seem like an inconvenient chore, and I am constantly struggling with it myself, specially because most often than not I have my own agenda, or I am in a hurry to get things done rather than wait for a 4-year-old to stop crying her heart out over closet issues or explain her seemingly (to me) petty problem when we have a bus to catch or school or training to get to. However, when we stop, if even for a minute, we are telling our child that he/she are worthy of our attention and they are in a safe zone to express their needs, whatever they are. Moreover, I did realise that when I started making the time whenever possible and stop what I’m doing to give them my full attention, it has saved me more time than forcing their emotions to disappear and the girls started feeling safer in expressing themselves eloquently faster.

Separate your own feelings

No matter how young the kids are, he/she is and will be a separate entity with different emotions, reactions and sensations than his/her parents. No matter how much empathy a parent has, and we really should have a lot towards our kids, the child’s situation/problem remains theirs, and no one should rob them of that, it is frustrating. So why do many of us grown-ups tend to intertwine our own feelings with our Children’s, is beyond me?

Drawing Conclusions

Finally, it is also important that children are given the freedom and creativity to come up with their own conclusions/solutions for their problem/situation themselves… well a practical one if possible. Here’s what I think; by depriving them of drawing a conclusion for their problems might eventually hinder them ability to come up with solutions for themselves later on orthe conclusion we as grownups or protective caregivers sometimes come up with might be so ridiculous for the child that they will not come to us for support again or they might reject your attempt to help them at all.

Underlying Problem

When a human, adult be it or child over-reacts to a situation, it is usually because there is an underlying issue. If that is the case, let’s not underestimate the situation for our children and simply try to get to the bottom of things by trying to understand the why they are acting the way they are instead of the howthey are over-reacting!

Just by listening to my girls, I am letting them know that at least one person in this world cares about them and is genuinely keen to know how they feel and recognizes and believes their reality as they see it!!

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