April 3: Simply Listening
This week I have been thinking about times when it is helpful for parents to use fewer words. If you have been reading these posts for a while, you know that I am a big proponent of using language to describe feelings and to communicate about emotions and relationships. Today I want to reflect on times when using less language might be preferable.
So often as parents we’re tempted to jump in, offer advice, or ask lots of questions about a stressful situation. Our intentions are so well-meant: ‘I have more wisdom and life experience than my child, so of course I should weigh with my opinion about how to solve a tricky problem’. Particularly in the age of cell phones, children are able to reach out and ask for help with situations that in the past they would have been required to manage on their own because they simply didn’t have the ability to get in touch with a parent.
One of the most important jobs a parent has is to provide a calm, nurturing presence for a child. In addition, most parents strive to raise resilient children who are able to solve problems independently. Balancing these goals is more of an art than a science. How do we combine being a supportive presence for children while also encouraging their ability to think independently?
Next time your child reports to you about a tricky situation, pause for a moment and consider whether this is a time for you to be actively engaged in solving the problem, or whether it is an opportunity to provide a loving, supportive presence and to express confidence in your child’s ability to engage in creative problem solving. If it’s the latter, here are some scripts that might be useful:
“That sounds like a tricky situation. What ideas do you have about solving the problem?”
“Two things are true. This is a hard situation, and you’re someone who can do hard things.”
“I’m here and I’m listening.”
“Ugh. That sounds frustrating.”
“Do you need to rant right now, or do you want to talk about solutions? I’m happy to just listen if you want to vent.”
If you’re someone who has been used to taking an active role in solving problems in the past, making the choice to talk less when your child is frustrated or struggling might feel really difficult. When these situations arise, remember to take a slow, deep breath to give yourself space before you respond, and remind yourself, ‘What my child needs most is my presence. Is this a time when I can simply listen?’