Listening to your child -
As you look at, listen to, touch, or help your child with this or that, you are alert, still, completely present, not wanting anything other than that moment as it is. - Eckhart Tolle
The very best way to connect to our child is to 'listen'. Listening with complete presence, not half-heartedly while texting a friend or helping a sibling get ready for school. Listening means whole-body presence, eye contact, and touch.
Our child thrives on being heard, so if we are able to stop what we are doing and listen with an open heart it can be extremely therapeutical and rewarding on so many levels. Because 'listening' instantly dissolves tensions in their body, they soften, open, feel loved and connected to us.
And in the long run, we are helping our child develop their self-confidence and positively contribute to their emotional intelligence. When they are heard we are saying to our child: 'I care about you, you are important to me, I respect you and I believe in you.'
Peony (10 yrs old at the time) came to us after dinner to talk about a new girl at school. All the other girls liked her except Peony who found her intrusive, an attention seeker and mean. Worst of all, Peony felt she was taking her friends away from her. So my husband and I listened to her and she talked for a good 20 minutes about how she hated this girl who was currently ruining her life! We asked a few questions like: how does it feel to have less attention from your friends, why do you think this new girl is acting this way, what do your friends think of her, how are you dealing with her when she irritates you? … What started out as tension in Peony’s body ended up in giggles when she got to the part where she wanted to strangle the new girl, which we joked about for a few minutes. I said ‘like when you want to kill your sisters when they're annoying you’. Our loving presence was all Peony needed, we weren't aiming at fixing or finding a resolution for her perceived problem, all she really wanted was to be heard and validated by airing her problem.
The next day after school, Peony was acting verbally and physically aggressive towards me in the supermarket, I had to firmly ask her to stop and then I remembered the conversation from the previous night, so I said to her ‘are you still really mad about the new girl’ and she blurted out a loud ‘YES’, she then became teary and fell into my arms and her body softened. When we got back into the car I asked Berenice (14 yrs old at the time) how she would handle a similar situation. I couldn’t have phrased it any better “I think Peony you have to be patient, your friends like the new girl because new people are always exciting and fun and then we get used to them. Your friends still like you. Who knows you may end up liking this new girl and becoming friends.” Which in fact Peony did.
Being totally present produces emotional safety that allows our child to open up with ease. They learn that we are there for them without judgment and we are doing our best to understand.
Once our child does open up, we can generate even more space so that they can freely express themselves, while we cohere to our child with curiosity and interest. And when it's appropriate we can reflect back to our child the experience they're having, validating their emotions to make sure we have understood correctly: ‘so when your friends at school said they didn’t want to play with you anymore it made you feel sad and rejected, is this what you are saying?’
Within our busy lives, particularly as young parents, our availability for listening isn't always possible. In this case, we can always ask our child to wait until we have completed our task. Obviously, when our child is young (toddler age) our reactivity needs to be instantaneous as they haven't yet developed the capacity to wait. But as they get older 'waiting' is a great skill to cultivate and it is much better to be completely present for what they have to say than trying to listen while we are preoccupied with something else. And of course, we need to commit to upholding our promise of coming back to them when we have asked them to wait.
In other words, listening to our child doesn’t mean they can incessantly interrupt us when we are doing something that requires focus, like when we are speaking to someone else. If we are in a conversation and our child has something to say, then we can kindly ask them to wait until we have finished talking. Without making our child wait too long so they do not lose the spontaneity of what they have to say. It’s an excellent way for them to learn to be patient, control their impulses and strength their will.
Another advantage of regularly listening is we get to hear our child's opinions and ideas, which opens up our own perspectives on the world perceived through their eyes. Most of the time our opinions aren't even necessary, except when they are seeking our advice or to exchange ideas.
These meaningful conversations also open up the dialogue for a healthy relationship with our future teenager. Funnily enough, I have noticed toddlers and teenagers have a lot of similarities, they are both desiring more independence, to broaden out and to discover the world around them that requires our vigilance to ensure their safety. They also have in common out of control reactions that make them erratic, chaotic, capricious and angry that fundamentally test our limits. I think it's because as teenagers they sometimes feel powerless and are seeking to understand where their limits are, which is why they regularly need our attention with lots of time for open communication.
It is also fun listening to our child when they are giving us indirect messages about themselves or ourselves. As we know our child is so intuned and respective to our emotions that they often act out our inner world through synchronisms.
My children have invariably said, acted or pointed things out that are relative to what is going on for me. Like handing me an open book that contains the perfect phrase that answers a question I'm having or pointing out in the supermarket that a naturopath friend is here when infact I had been meaning to contact her about a health concern. This has taught me to be observant of my children's words, games, songs and items they are handing me.
What a blessing they are!