As a mom I sometimes find it funny that for the first two or three years of life I am so excited about each word that my kids say and I love to focus on all of the details... and then typically about halfway through their third year I start to tune them out a bit.
Over the past few weeks I've realized that although I listen to my friends pretty well, I am not a great listener as a mom. I'm giving myself a little parenting challenge this week to listen better, and if you find yourself in the same boat, come join me. Scroll down for details.
I know some of you are probably thinking, "Listen better... to them? How about they work on listening to me?"
If that is the case, sign up for our upcoming free Get Kids to Listen without Reminding, Yelling, or Nagging Positive Parenting Solutions course with Amy McCready on August 13th at 1pm EST. I'll share more about that later this week.
Recently I read an article by Mark Ogletree about communicating in marriage and the quote that stuck out to me was...
"Being heard is akin to being loved; in fact, being listened to is one of the highest forms of respect and validation. By listening, we are saying to our spouse, “You matter to me, I love you, and what you have to say is important.”
After applying the quote to my own marriage it also got me thinking about how I communicate with my kids and how my lame listening skills are really sending the wrong message to my kids. I am not respecting or validating them by only half listening.
I created this simple image that I am going to stick up on my bulletin board in my kitchen to help me remember why listening (really listening) to my kids is so important.
To kick off my challenge for myself I am going to work on HOW I listen and WHERE I listen.
How to listen better...
Before I can be a better listener, I needed to evaluate how I am currently listening to my kids and what my challenges are. I challenge you to do the same thing.
Here are a few of my challenges...
1. When my older son starts telling me about his newest LEGO creation and why he used different bricks and how it works I sometimes start going through my "to do" list in my head or thinking about more interesting things while nodding and smiling and saying things like, "cool" and "that sounds interesting."
2. My kids always are most interested in telling me things right when my husband walks in the door or right when a guest arrives or I'm on the phone or we need to be leaving to go somewhere... which makes conversations rushed, frustrated, and allows for less connection.
3. Sometimes with all of the comments about favorite stuffed animals or discoveries the kids make in the backyard I find that I am not quite sure how to respond authentically. I use the words cool, wow, interesting, fun... way too much. I'd love to say more amazing things to ask them awesome questions to extend their learning... but that doesn't happen all of the time.
4. Sometimes my brain is tired during the day and it feels like if it hears another piece of information or another story it just might explode.
Do you have any similar challenges?
Here's my plan to combat my listening challenges and be a better listener this week...
1. When my brain starts wandering during a conversation with my kids, I'm going to try and think about the key phrase I got from Alissa at Creative with Kids... "It's not just about the LEGOs (or whatever)" to remind myself that "These little moments of listening were smoothing the way for long term deep connection." Read more about why these conversations are important for connecting over at Creative with Kids.
2. For the next week I am going to try and stop, look, and listen every time my kids need to talk to me. That means that I'll stop what I am doing (within reason), be close by so that I can look at them (not yelling from the other room), and I'll take a few minutes to listen.
3. Plan in chat time and keep notes. Since I know there will be times that I can't actually stop what I am doing, I'm going to also try and schedule in some daily chat time with each of my kids individually. That way, if I have to let a kid know that I can't listen right now, I can say, "but remember we have some special chat time scheduled today after quiet time" and I might even try and jot down a note on my phone to remind me what my son wanted to talk about... just in case he forgets.
4. Make sure I have a quiet time away from the kids every day to do something I enjoy and to recharge. This might mean that I sneak upstairs when the kids are playing to go to the bathroom alone... or it might mean that I go read a book once my husband gets home or stick on some headphones and fold laundry and not talk to anyone. I'm sure every day will be different... but for my sanity I need some kid-free peace and quiet every day.
5. Try and come up with more creative responses when I am commenting as I listen. I also really need to work on studying more about asking better questions. One of the best ways to be a better listener is to hang out with good listeners and learn from them!
6. I am going to reteach my kids about interrupting and our nonverbal signals. This way if I am talking to someone else and they really need me to listen I'll have a cue that we all understand that reminds them that I will make time for them in the conversation but that they need to wait a minute (unless it is an emergency).
Those are only a few of the things that I need to get working on. Do you have any other suggestions of ways to combat your listening challenges?
In addition to HOW I listen I am going to work on WHERE I am listening.
I created a simple "take time to listen" chart (Be a STAR listener) and my goal is to try and fill in at least two to three stars each day. Each star represents one time when I was listening/connecting during an intentional activity.
My goals for using the chart includes listening with a purpose (which is to connect with my kids in more meaningful ways) and to be more intentional about how I structure our day so that we can foster that connecting. (You can print this filled in version here or print a blank star chart here for yourself if you want a copy.)
Some of the places WHERE I want to work on listening to my kids more include...
- on a family walk/run
- playing next to one another
- creating alongside each other
- while I am preparing meals
- participating in sensory activities
- cuddling next to one another on the couch
- eating an afternoon snack together
- chatting on quick car rides
- during mealtime
- at bedtime right before we read stories
- on monthly parent "date" nights
- while I am folding laundry and doing other chores
There is a lot more to being a good listener than the things I've mentioned, but this is a great place for me to start.
By being more aware of when I can build in some extra chat time during our day, I'll make sure to actually turn it into time to chat (where I ask questions and listen)... instead of me just zoning out while my kids run around.
Making time for conversation is a great first step. It teaches kids that what they have to say matters... which then teaches them that they matter. Listening is such an important ingredient in all relationships (now and in the future), so I think it is critical that kids learn how to listen from us. Right now I am not the best example... but hopefully with a little work, I'll get there.
Do you ever struggle with listening to your kids? Does anything in this post ring true to you? What are some goals you'd like to set for yourself in this area? I'd love to hear about them!