The old adage “Children should be seen and not heard” makes me think of the movie Mary Poppins. Those adorable children spent every day with their nanny, because their parents were just too busy to be bothered with them. Thankfully, Mary Poppins was able to help the parents realize the most important thing they could do was to spend time together as a family.
Parent/child relationships are important in any family, but they are crucial in the Christian family. You want to be able to help point your kids and eventually their kids towards God as long as you possibly can. If you have a poor relationship with your kids though, it is highly unlikely they will listen to anything you have to say – especially advice about obeying God.
Which is why it is vitally important you really listen to your kids when they are young. As much as some adults refuse to admit it, children will listen best to those they feel listen best to them. (Which is why predators tend to prey on children who have bad or virtually non-existent relationships with their parents.)
So what do you need to do to listen to your kids so they will feel heard (and hopefully listen to you in the same way)?
- Give your children your full attention when they are talking. Put down the devices and don’t look at them. Don’t look over their shoulder at the tv or another person. Don’t keep looking at your watch. They need to feel like what they are saying is almost as important to you as it is to them.
- Ask thoughtful questions. This is important to them, so make sure you understand the details and how it makes them feel. Ask them their thoughts on the subject or what they want to do next. This is not the time to critique. Right now you are just filling in the blanks.
- Empathize. Just because in the eyes of an adult, this is not a big deal, it may be to your child. Don’t try to talk them out of their emotions. Empathize, even if you don’t necessarily agree. “I can see why that might make you angry”, is not agreeing or lying – just understanding how they feel. You can help them process these emotions appropriately later. Right now they need to feel like someone understands them and is on their side.
- Remember details and follow up later. Nothing frustrates a child more than telling you a very important story, only for you to immediately forget it or the important details. If you forget, apologize. “I’m so sorry I forgot her boyfriend’s name, but…” can heal any possible rift your forgetfulness may cause. Try hard to remember though – even if you have to take written notes after your child walks away and review them later.
- Ask if and how your child may want your help. This one is tough. Moms are fixers. We want to wash the hurt off, but a bandaid on and kiss it – making it “all better”. Unfortunately, in this case, it may not be what is best for your child. Giving your children the respect to ask if they want your help and how they want you to help also tells them you are trusting them to make good choices and ask for help when they need it. It is the beginning of cutting those apron strings and seeing how well they are beginning to fly. Taking over and fixing your child’s problems as soon as they mention them is not in anyone’s best interest. It’s a huge struggle for most of us moms, but in the end it’s what helps them grow and mature – and still respect your advice and help.
The next time your children want to talk, really listen in ways they feel heard. It will strengthen your relationship and make it more likely you can continue to effectively point them towards God for many years to come.