As adults, we’re busy, and at times it’s easy to overlook the small details of our children’s everyday lives. Sometimes we even inadvertently (and with the best of intentions, I may add), invalidate our kids and give them signals that their feelings or opinions are not important. Taking a few minutes each day to really listen to and tune into what’s happening with your child can help enhance the open, trusting relationship you already have with him or her.
Here are some tips for making sure your child feels heard:
1. When they disclose something to you, stop what you are doing and thank them for sharing. Ask if they will share more about that with you.
One of the most simple and powerful phrases in parenting is this: "Thanks for sharing. Tell me more." Remember, regardless of what it is, your child is choosing to share something with you. If we remain busy with what we are doing (I have to get dinner on the table, or pick up little Johnny from soccer, or take your sister to school), or don’t choose to engage in what they are saying, they will get the message that what they have shared isn’t as important to you as other things on your list. Sometimes we have to be a little bit late to something, or dinner might not get on the table piping hot, but these are necessary sacrifices to ensure our children feel heard and that their issues and emotions are important. If you really can’t engage in the conversation right at that moment, try saying something like, “Jenny, I am so glad you shared that with me. I really want to hear more about it. Right now we have to ___________. Can you and I chat more about it before bedtime tonight?” Just make sure you follow up with your child at the time you’ve indicated!
2. Ask for their opinions.
When talking about most things, ask for your children’s opinions. Are you talking about an age-appropriate news story? Ask, “Johnny, what do you think?” Are you talking about the grocery list? What to have for dinner? Ask your kids what they think. Invite them into your conversations. They will learn that their opinions matter, even if they always don't get what they want (super sugary cereal for dinner, anyone?).
3. If your child shares about a problem, don’t try to solve it for them.
As parents, we so often want to solve our children’s problems or immediately make their hard emotions go away. This is natural. However, it is far more helpful to guide and shepherd our children into how to do that for themselves. After all, this is what they will be expected to do eventually, and it is our job to teach them how to do so responsibly. As adults, when we solve a problem, we often seek the consultation of others, evaluate the issue, think through possible solutions and consequences, implement a choice, and evaluate it’s effectiveness. Kids don’t have the framework built in of how to appropriately and responsibly solve a problem; they need to be taught and helped along the way. Let them seek your consultation. Instead of providing the solutions for them, try asking them what some solutions may be and help them think through them.
4. Say to them, “What I hear you saying is…”
This can be a simple and powerful phrase. You may say to your child, “So what I’m hearing you say is that you feel sad because Dylan left you out at recess.” Your child might say, “Exactly!” or they may say, “That’s not right at all! I’m ANGRY!” You have just clarified what your child is trying to tell you and, in the process, you have let them know that it is important to you that you understand how they feel and you want to make sure you get it right. That is very validating, for any of us.
5. Avoid interrupting them.
This probably doesn’t require much explanation. No one feels validated when they get interrupted, but sometimes it’s an easy thing to do. Resist the urge, and choose to hear your child out.
6. Mirror the emotions on you child’s face, and tell him/her what they are showing you they feel.
This will help your child understand how they show different emotions and whether they misconstrue those or not. It will also help you and your child have a conversation about what your child is actually feeling. For example, a parent may say, “I’m seeing that you look angry.” And the child may respond, “I’m a little angry, but I’m mostly frustrated.”
7. Give them one on one time.
We tend to talk more and build stronger relationships when we do so one-on-one. Prioritize this!
8. Thank them for sharing with you, even if what they said isn’t what you hoped to hear.
This is a big one. We want our kids to share things with us, even when they know that it’s not what we hope to hear. If that’s what we want, we need to let them know and react accordingly—in the little and big stuff. So, when your child says they don’t like their sister, you can respond by saying something like, “I’m sad to hear that, but I’m really glad that you told me how you feel.” If you feel compelled to help your child get past that, try something like, “I’m sad to hear that, but I’m really glad that you told me how you feel. I’m happy to help you and sister work through these things. I see that they’re really hard for you.”
These tips are not necessarily easy, and many of them don’t come naturally, especially in the hustle and bustle of parenting. But, hopefully, you’ve picked up on some small adjustments you can make in how you communicate with your children that will help them feel heard and enhance your relationship with them.
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