I push open the door and peer inside my son’s bedroom. He is reading. I walk in and sit next to him on the bed to be with him for a few minutes. He clicks off his reading light and I massage my fingers up and down his back. I look at the curls on the back of his head and sigh. He has grown so much and, with each heartbeat, I feel my love for him pulsate through my chest.
“How was your day?” I inquire.
“It was alright,” he replies.
“Anything difficult happen today?”
“Not so much,” he answers back.
I shift my weight onto my other arm. I try to focus on the moment. At times like these my mind often wanders from thinking about my to-do list to pondering random events from the day.
Focus Damara, focus! I direct my brain. Stay in the present. Hmmm, I wonder what is happening in his life. I would really like to be a part of it. I hope he invites me in. What can I do?
I silently pray. A quiet thought flashes to my mind, “Tell him you love spending time with him, then just listen.”
“I love spending time with you,” I whisper, grateful that God so willingly and lovingly helps me as a parent.
Again . . . silence. The quiet is starting to unnerve me and my brain is wandering to the things I need to finish before I can go to bed.
“Actually there is this boy in PE that other kids pick on,” he starts.
Oh goodie, a problem I can help him with, I think and smile inwardly.
The quiet voice prods, “Just listen.”
But I can show him how smart I am, I argue.
“But you want to strengthen your relationship, so just listen,” it says again.
He shares his story and I patiently listen, biting my tongue. His body relaxes. There are moments during his tale when I want to offer my help and words of wisdom, but I manage to stop myself. When he finishes his story of sadness and struggle, again I want to offer my help but force myself to stop.
“Thanks for listening, Mom,” he says and gives me a hug. The current of connection feels magical. He just needed my listening ear—that was all.
As I leave his room, I feel like I am walking on air. I give a quick prayer of gratitude for the heavenly direction and for the fact that I didn’t spoil the moment. My heart surges with love for my son.
This thought pours into my mind, “That is the greatest gift you can give him: loving, attentive listening.” I commit inwardly to work on giving that more often.
The Gift of Attentive Listening
It is difficult listening to our children’s stories of sadness and struggle. We quickly want to fix the problem and make it go away. We want to give our children advice. However, many times they just need our loving, attentive and listening ears more than they need our help or advice. Attentive listening is arguably the supreme gift we can give children of any age, but especially our teenagers. And the big bonus is that it doesn’t cost us a cent.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t help our children. But there are times when they just need to share with us what is going on. If there is a safety issue then the problem needs to be discussed immediately. Otherwise, if the situation is safe, let them think through it for a day or two, then ask them how it is going. Maybe the problem worked itself out; maybe they are ready to accept some help at that point.
Often we buy our children expensive gifts as a token of our love; however, the gift of loving attentive listening sends the message, “You are most important to me right now. You have my undivided attention.” It shows your children through your actions that you love them, and it bonds you together as it strengthens your cherished relationship.
Ideas for Achieving Attentive Listening with Your Child
Children are more willing to open up if you are not staring them in the face. Our facial expressions may cause them to quickly clam up for fear of judgement. My son had his back to me as he shared his story. Being side by side in a car also works well. Here are some things you can say that will signal to your child that you are all ears:
- “I enjoy spending time with you. I love hearing what you have to say.”
- “Did anything hard happen today?”
- When they are finished, give them a hug and say, “Thank you for sharing this with me. I know you can handle this.”
These comments infuse your children with confidence and love. If they start sharing something, don’t interrupt them. Just listen and nod. Keep in mind that our brains like to trick us. We might falsely think that listening to our kids is going to take too long and that we don’t have time. That simply is not true. I spent a total of ten minutes with my son. Ten minutes or even less is all it takes.
Give your children the greatest gift you can: yourself. I invite you to give it a try and see what happens.
QUESTION: Are there times when your children are struggling and you could slow down and listen? How do your children respond when you take time to listen to them?
CHALLENGE: Give your child ten minutes of your undivided attention. Ask him how he is doing, what the hardest thing about school is, how her closest friends are doing, or anything else you want to know. Be present, and just listen.
Read more from Damara in her new book Self-Motivated Kids: Creating an Environment Where Kids Listen and Cooperate and on her website ParentingBrilliantly.com.
Edited by Amanda Lewis and Megan Roxas.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Originally posted November 1, 2016.