I want to talk about something that I have been struggling with these last few months. It has been a super busy season and I am really trying to be present when I am with my children. Since there are five of them it is so hard to equally divide my time and feel like I am fully listening. I knew this would be hard when we decided to keep having children. However, as they grow older, the more life they have outside my home, the more they have to tell me. I love it, don’t get me wrong. I want to hear every tiny detail, but it would literally take all day. I just can’t. I can’t listen to every single story about what happened at school for each child and have enough time to make dinner, give baths, brush teeth, etc.
Everyone has an innate need to be heard. In a family of 7, this is a huge challenge. It is often loud in our house. I am talking sitting by the speakers at a rock concert loud. So loud, in fact, most people can’t handle it. Part of the noise is because everyone is trying to talk over one another. We are trying to fix this. We are learning to wait our turn to talk, but in a big family, it’s going to happen.
When I started sitting down every day with each child and allowing them to tell me the highlights of their day (and not wait until bedtime when they are just stalling) the entire house started to calm down. It made for much more relaxing afternoons and smoother bedtime routines.
So, here are some ways that I have tried to help my kiddos feel like they are being heard.
1. Give your undivided attention.
Put away the phones, turn off the tv, close your laptop. Leave the room and go into a quiet space if you have to but give them all of you. This is honestly important for any human interaction in this day and age. Everyone is so addicted to their smartphones and always trying to multitask, that it is nearly impossible to have real human connection anymore.
2. Ask questions.
Who did you play with on the playground?
What did you do in art today? Did you read any interesting books?
If you have a preteen/teenager, this is especially important. My third grader would tell me every minute if I asked about her day, but my 12 year old would just say “good”. It is also important for the third grader because I don’t have time to listen to a play by play. So, when I ask questions, she sees that I am genuinely interested and want to know all about the exciting things that happened.
3. Talk to them immediately after school (or a fun activity)
It used to be that the children would come home from school and do homework, chores, and then eat dinner. We wouldn’t truly get a time to sit down and talk until bedtime. The problem waiting until bedtime is that they weren’t as excited about their day. In turn, most of the time they only really wanted to tell me things to stall bedtime and stay awake. So, I was getting frustrated and I wasn’t truly listening.
Now, when I make the time to sit down after school, they really feel like I am listening and not just trying to rush them to go to bed. In addition, I have two kiddos at home. Now, my three year old talks to me all day long; however, I try to make it a point to sit down and really listen after we do something fun. Yesterday, I asked her how she liked playing hot potato and what was her favorite dance that we did after we had a fun dance/game time.
4. Don’t interrupt
I used to be so bad at interrupting people. It wasn’t something I did on purpose, but I was afraid I would forget what I was going to say. When you interrupt people, you are telling them that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say. This is a terrible habit that I still struggle with at times. Instead, wait until they are done speaking before you speak and if you forget what you were going to say, it’s ok. It probably wasn’t that important anyway and if it was, it will come back to you!
Repeating a cliff notes version of their day back to them reaffirms that you were in fact listening. It is a habit I actually learned from my mom, (Who does it way too much haha) but it really does make you feel “heard”.
One last thing, I wanted to add is that if your children come to you with a complaint or something negative, sometimes they just want to get it off their chest. They don’t actually want you to fix it. I am a problem solver and a fixer. If someone comes to me with a problem, my first instinct is to try to fix it. I have come to realize that you can’t fix things for people, they have to do it themselves. So essentially I am wasting my breath or two and sometimes your “advice” can come off as bossy. When you boss someone around, they don’t feel heard and our goal is to help them feel heard.