One of the fastest ways to cause a child or teenager to emotionally shut down is when he or she doesn’t feel heard.
As adults, we’ve maybe mastered the multi-tasking listen. Maybe it is hard to listen to everything a child tells us. Maybe some of those things seem really unimportant compared to the stresses that we encounter. But as adults, if you aren’t invested in the little things you might miss out on your opportunity to be involved in the big things.
I talk to kids a lot - and I hear some very common themes when it comes to adults listening (or not listening).
“My parent is always on their phone when I am with them. It makes it hard to feel like we are spending time together.”
“My parent doesn’t ever really respond when I share something with them. It makes it hard to know if they are listening”
“My parent doesn’t even let me finish talking before they move on to something else. I know they don’t care about what I have to say”
“I feel like my parent doesn’t seem interested in what I have to say. They never ask me any questions about it.”
Substitute teacher/coach/small group leader/etc for parent and you can start to see the picture of times that kids aren’t being heard. We aren’t intentionally ignoring the kids in our lives - but we might be missing the bigger picture of how we can make them feel heard.
1: Put down the phone.
The irony is that as adults we are always complaining about kids constantly being on their phones. But we have an opportunity to stop and reflect. Are we guilty of modeling that behavior to them? You might feel as if you are able to listen when you are checking an email or replying to a text. But the message your child is getting is clear: “I’m not being heard. Whatever you are doing is more important than listening to me.”
2. Respond, even if you don’t know what to say
You may feel ill-equipped at times to respond to your child or teen. You might not always feel like you know the “right” thing to say. This can cause you to be silent instead of responding. Have you ever talked to someone who doesn’t really respond to what you say? It makes me feel incredibly unheard. Even hearing “I’m listening” or “Thank you for sharing that with me” can go a long way in helping a child feel heard.
3. Let them finish what they are sharing - either now or later
I get it - if your kid constantly has something to share then you may not always be able to listen exactly when they want to share. If you have the time to engage and listen, great! If not, acknowledge that its not the right time and then follow up. Make sure you remember to ask them later to finish their story. Or set a designated time where they can be the focus and have as much time to share as they need.
4. Engage through questions
This goes along with responding even if you don’t know what to say. How do we know if someone is truly interested in us? They ask us questions about what is important to us. They engage in understanding what we are talking about. They seek to know us better by asking us questions. They take the time later to follow up on our questions.
Do your children feel heard by you? Do they feel like you are listening to what is important to them? The quickest way to find out might be to ask them! Do you feel heard? Do you feel like what is important to you is important to me?
If you feel like communicating with your child or teen has become difficult, try the things on this list. If you feel like you need additional help, don’t hesitate to reach out to Bethel Haven. We have wonderful counselors who can help rebuild parent-child relationships.