How do we engage in conversation? How do we listen to our children? Over the years, I have worked with several clients that struggle with connecting deeply with their children. When we examined this in the coaching space, it ultimately came down to what, when, and how parents were listening to their children were serving as barriers to connection.
Listening is something that takes practice. It’s like going to the gym; we need to build these muscles before we can bench press 200 lbs. Listening is the same. In my personal and professional experience, I have examined what it means to listen. Oftentimes we are on autopilot throughout the day. We listen to respond. What happens when we listen to hear? Listening to hear, as opposed to listening to respond, allows us to attentively listen to the other person and process what they are saying. When we listen to respond, we usually have a response formulated by mid-sentence and may not fully hear them.
Second, a big part of listening to hear is being distraction-free. When you listen to your children, are you distracted by your own thoughts, feelings, or electronics? Active listening is about being attentive, not distracted. In order to hear our children, our loved ones, or truly anyone in our lives, we need to give space between what we were doing in the past and give attention to the present moment to listen without distraction.
Oftentimes when we listen to respond or are listening while distracted, our children know. They can pick up on when we are or are not paying attention, when we are distracted, and when we are not present. Our undivided attention speaks loudly; it is the non-verbal behaviors that speak louder than the way we respond.
I have learned, and am continually learning to be still, quiet and listen without distraction. My own children are my biggest awakeners, helping me see when I am present, and when I can do better. The more we mindfully listen to hear rather than to respond, the more opportunities we have to make our children feel seen, heard, and valued. Ultimately, this is how we forge deep connections with them.