Look out, bad parent alert. Guilty as charged. Occasionally, this blog is going to be self-confessional, and today is one of those times. I am still wallowing in the trenches of learning to be a better parent. Maybe the third child will be the charm.
The other day, my daughter Andrea was trying to tell me something, and unfortunately I was completely absorbed in something else. I was probably reading, writing, or watching an online tutorial (something I do a lot of, here lately). Whatever it was, I was totally immersed. I barely heard a word she said.
After she finished speaking, she asked me if I had heard anything she said. “Oh, yeah, of course,” I said and proceeded to ask her a question that I would have known the answer to if I had truly been paying attention.
“Mom, I just said that,” she replied, understandably annoyed. “You didn’t listen.”
I apologized, but too late. She was right. I had royally messed up by not listening when I should have been.
It is hard to recover from that one. I felt really horrible when we both realized that I had been ignoring her – not on purpose, of course, but ignoring her nonetheless. Funny, I don’t even remember what I was doing that was so important to command my attention, but I do remember the look on her face when she realized I had not been listening to her.
Listening is an art, and most of us are rotten at it. Think about it. Many of us zone out as soon as another person begins to speak. Our eyes glaze over. Our minds inevitably start to wander. We are caught up in our phones, computers, ipads, and whatever it is that we want to say next, and we ignore another person who needs to be heard. That is especially bad when the other person is your teen.
Here are some steps we as parents can take to become better listeners:
- Clear your mind and concentrate on what the other person is saying. Tell yourself that you can read that article or listen to that podcast later. Also, don’t be trying to think of what you will say next. You can miss some very important information which can be critical pieces of the conversation.
- Make eye contact with your teen when she is talking. That one thing alone will help you stay focused on what she is saying. She needs to know she has mom’s undivided attention for a few seconds or minutes, depending on what she needs to talk about. If you are distracted and preoccupied, it sends the wrong message to her that other things are more important than her feelings and concerns.
- Remember – two ears, one mouth. You can’t listen effectively if you are doing the talking. As tempting as it is to chime in and start in, keep the trap door closed! Even though your point may be dying to get out, she needs to be able to state what is on her mind as much as she can without being interrupted. When you know she is finished, then it may be safe to comment.
A parent can learn so much just by being willing to listen when a teen decides to speak. We learn about their feelings, needs, plans, interests – all sorts of topics that a parent should be all ears about when they get the opportunity to hear it. Take advantage of those free information sessions. You need to stay in the loop as much as possible.
So my next move forward is to be more alert to when Andrea needs to tell me something. It may be about the painting she is doing for art class, or a frustration she encountered at school, or about the plans she is making with a friend. Whatever it is, I know it will be important enough for me to stop what I am doing and LISTEN!
Are you a good listener? If you are, then please give me some pointers! Leave a comment below and help me and others to become better listeners.