A mother of five told us that her older children once “busted” her and her husband with an insightful observation: “We know you’re not listening when you say, ‘Wow, that’s great!’” The children were able to discern that the parents were really not listening or observing very closely. Fortunately, they could state their disappointment aloud and the parents could respond. Many kids in this pattern just grow up believing that perhaps they are not so important.
When we seek to communicate to our kids that they’re loved no matter what, one great way is to enter their world: watch, ask, listen! In other words, take an active interest in — and pay real attention to — learning from them about things they enjoy.
One mom felt her connection with her teenage son diminishing. She had never previously paid much attention to his baseball card collection, so she bridged the growing disconnection by having him “teach her the ropes” of his baseball card interest. (Now that’s dedication!) When I immerse myself in something my child treasures, I communicate an important message: “You are so valuable, the things that are important to you are important to me!”
One evening our youngest son, Noah, asked me to look at a sketchpad of artwork he had recently completed. Unfortunately, it was during dinner prep and I knew that I would be an easily detectable fraud if I pretended I was really looking at it while trying not to chop my finger in with the vegetables. I looked at him intently and said, “Noah, I can see you’ve worked hard on this. It’s really important to me to look at it closely with you. Let’s do it after dinner when we have lots of time.”
After dinner I sat down to admire what was an incredible collection of drawings. I made sure we were positioned so I could look into his eyes, which lit up while he talked. He was unusually verbal and animated as we journeyed through his black and white world together. He told me stories about many of his favorite drawings, explained how he’d gotten his ideas, what he liked or disliked about each picture. I asked questions about the drawings I didn’t understand and commented on the incredible detail I noticed in his artwork.
If I had let my meal-prepping tunnel vision dominate, I could have missed a great opportunity to connect with Noah by offering a half-hearted, “Yeah, that’s great.” Instead, by remembering the power of giving my undivided attention, we were able to enjoy an uninterrupted time of joyful togetherness. (In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I tipped Jim off to this golden opportunity and he arranged a similar “Tour de Sketchpad” at a later time.)
Apply It Now
- As I consider my listening style with my children, do I ask a lot of questions? Do I give answers or judgments about what they say?
- What might make me a better listener?
- What is something my child is truly excited about that I could take some time to “watch, ask, and listen” about?
This post is an excerpt from our book, How to Grow a Connected Family.
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