Family Life

The Importance of Listening

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Listening to what you are being told is so incredibly important for success in life and especially in your family life. Listening is something I have made a great effort to take time for during my 14 years of motherhood, the many years I spent working in the school system and all my years of training and managerial experience. The new electronic era is crippling peoples’ ability to stop, focus and listen. Rather we get the half-hearted “uh-huh” as the person we are trying to speak to drools at a screen.

Growing up I remember eating my meals in front of the television and getting my information about most things from my friends (yes, this was before the magic ball by the name of Google came around). If I had something that I wanted to talk about I rarely took it to my parents.

People Need Undivided Attention

The most common thing that I heard from students, mostly teenagers, was that their parents either don’t care and/or don’t listen. Interesting. So, what happens when someone feels like the person they should trust the most isn’t giving them time to express their mind with them? They become bitter and start doing things to get the attention they crave; typically manifesting itself in some form or poor behavior whether it is whoredom, drugs, declining grades, crazy make-up or some other form of a cry for help.

Recently, I took a parenting class for fun, because it was free and I love psychology. The psychologist that ran the class had the same thing to say about children feeling ignored and he added another part about children no longer wanting to speak to their parents about important things, because of how their parents react. One notable take-away from the class was, if you treat your child like they are a liar, then they will become a liar… Wow! I hadn’t ever really thought about this before, but it seems that a lot of children that commit crimes and cause problems are doing this, because mom and dad were accusing them of doing wrong when they are not, so they went ahead and did something wrong since it didn’t matter if they did or didn’t they were still going to be treated as if they had. Now, if these parents had taken the time to sit down and talk things out with their children some bad stuff probably could have been avoided.

This is all important to the fact that you must listen to what anyone is saying to you especially children who are developing mentally and emotionally. You are their example of how to behave and their minds are not fully functioning until they are 26 years old, so you must help them and part of helping them is letting them feel comfortable to come to you with anything and feel like they are in trustworthy hands. If they tell you something it doesn’t become free rein information for you to tell whomever you please. Embarassment will chase your children away from telling you anything even if it isn’t an embarassing topic, because they no longer trust in your confidentiality.

You Might Be Surprised by How Much Your Children Don’t Know

Start asking questions. I found that children of all ages are misinformed about something. They are busy getting their info from their friends and copying what appears to be the way to be, but they are not working with a full deck no matter how smart they seem to be. Grades do not equal emotional intelligence. Sitting down and listening to children provides you with teachable moments and may save them from learning the hard way like most of us had to do. Personally, I would have preferred to learn things the easy way without all the hard lessons. Good listening will make a difference, but it must be sincere.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have had a hand to forehead moment from something I heard from a teenager that they truly believed was accurate.

Talk often! You can’t go from saying nothing to ranting and raving and expect this to be the communication children need. You have to build trust and that means taking time daily to put down the electronics and stop what you are doing to really listen and hear what your children and others are saying to you. You might be their problem. If you are the problem, then the only answer to how you can fix the problem and help the other person is through good listening.

Part of good listening is actively asking questions and hearing the answer.

  • Share your experiences and if it was positive or negative to help them understand that you aren’t just talking at them.
  • Encourage sharing in a friendly environment. In front of friends, family or in public is not the time to ask them what they know about sex and drugs or why they aren’t doing so great at school.
  • Don’t be a hypocrite! People do notice what you do and one of the worst things to do is say, “Don’t do …” then you turn around and do it. This is like giving children permission to do exactly what you are telling them not to do. Even if they know it is bad they are way more likely to take on your bad things, because they are half you or if they aren’t half you then you are their role model and everyone has a need to feel like they belong; if that means doing bad things to feel like they are fitting in then that is what is going to happen…. especially if you are doing those bad things.
  • Don’t go against them and make their explanation of the situation into a fight about how wrong they are. Remember, children do not have the ability to really think ahead. They most likely don’t think before they do any number of dumb things and after the fact is not the time to jump down their throat for being dumb… they need a safe person to discuss with them how to make a better decision in the future and the best plan of action if a similar situation were to arise.
  • Lying is a learned response to fear. If you are having an issue with lying then you are not trusted and you need to take a step back and assess your tactics. Trust will bring truth. If you catch a child lying then you need to realize your part in the lie. If your go-to is yelling or punishment then you are probably being lied to regularly, because they will be punished for the truth so they are trying to save themselves from you. Listening, understanding and positive redirection for better outcomes next time will go further than yelling can ever dream to get.
  • Give warnings, before punishment. Unless the warning was already given in the past and your child is of the mental capacity to remember your warning (10 or above and fully functioning) if you are not sure if they remember ask them before punishing them. They may not remember and need to be warned again. Punishment without warnings is a breeding ground for distrust and lies.
  • Empty threats mean nothing! If you tell your child that they will lose their privileges or have some form of punishment for doing something, then they choose to do the thing they were warned not to do… YOU MUST FOLLOW THROUGH ON YOUR PUNISHMENT! Children will quickly learn that your “NO” means nothing if you have endless warnings followed by a possible lighter punishment or no punishment at all. If they don’t respect your words then your wasting your breath and causing yourself undue frustration. That being said, don’t make wild punishments that are not appropriate to keep; if you are making legally punishable threats to your children in order to scare them, then you are not only hurting your credibility, you are also hurting the child’s mind.

Start Earning Your Child’s Trust

Earning a child’s trust is typically much easier than earning an adult’s trust, but teenagers are a whole different ball game, especially if you haven’t been the optimal parent throughout the years. The best thing that I can say is that they want to be able to trust their family and friends so you need to earn it.

Start having electronic-free time together. Everyone likes to feel like they are important and having a television or phone alerts taking your attention will cause others to resent you for your lack of caring; even if you intended to do good, your inattentive actions can make it all go bad. Children are sponges and most children become a copy of their parents, so show them that quality time is an important part of every day. There is such a thing as a DVR for a reason… that television program can wait. Mute your phone and put it somewhere where you won’t be tempted to look at it when it goes off… every time you break conversation to stare at your phone for any reason you are showing disinterest in the here and now that you should be consumed by.

Be consistent. The worst thing for anyone is to feel like they are being lied to. Here is a good example:

  • “We are going to do game night every Friday night”
  • The first Friday’s game night is so much fun the children want it every night
  • The second Friday’s game night doesn’t happen because of something
  • The third Friday’s game night doesn’t happen because you are tired and want to sit and watch television
  • The fourth Friday’s game night is not even mentioned
  • Fridays are no longer referred to as game night, because the children realize that it was just a one time deal and you lied when you said it would happen every Friday.

Now, your children or other people in your life that may have been affected by your lie have found a reason to distrust what you are saying. If you say that family time will be happening then you need to go out of your way to make sure that happens, even if it means drinking more coffee and catching the rerun of your favorite program. Truth=Trust

Start Enjoying Your Listening Ears and Eyes

Something I do with my children is play games together, every night they are with me, over dinner. The day can be very hectic and sometimes it gets away from me, so years ago we started playing games while we eat. Sometimes we play card games, sometimes we play board games and sometimes we play games on the white board like hangman. My children absolutely love this time together and they feel love and enjoy the attention. We sit at the table or in their room and play whatever game they want for at least a half hour, but preferably until the game is over (unless it is a really long game like Monopoly or Phase 10). This time together gives us an opportunity to talk and provides me with plenty of opportunities to help them with the things that their going through in their life. I LOVE my time with my children and I appreciate every second, because I know that some day they will be old and I will be sitting alone at my table wishing I had someone to play a game of cards with, so I don’t miss my opportunity to enjoy my time with my children while I have them.

It is Okay to Not Have All the Answers

We are all imperfect humans and we don’t always have all the answers. Don’t lie to sound smart just tell them you don’t know and look it up when you get a chance. You will earn respect for your honesty.

We have all made mistakes in life and you can and should provide heartfelt apologies for times when your wrong doing adversely affected someone, especially your children. However an apology is meaningless if you don’t change to do the right thing. Truth=Trust

The Art of Listening

  • Eye contact.
  • Undivided attention.
  • Body and verbal confirmation of your participation in communication.
  • Ask questions.
  • Confirm your understanding.
  • Rephrase questions that are getting “I don’t know” answers; they may not understand.
  • Ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • Don’t yell. If you need to walk away to compose yourself then do so.
  • Remember no one is perfect.