Learning to listen to your child is a skill. It takes ongoing practice. Improving skills, in general, and this one, in particular requires time, effort, and being committed; similar to playing a musical instrument, meditating, playing a sport, yoga, praying, or studying gemara. The nine steps that follow are meant to help you to listen better to your child.
- Consciously decide and commit, b’li neder, with full and sincere intention, to listen better to your child. Commit NOW to improve the way you listen to your children.This first step can be made more effective if you do whatever it takes for you to fully and sincerely commit, take it upon yourself to listen better, and follow through with this process. Ways to achieve this, include:
- Write a contract to yourself: “I _________ fully commit, b’li neder, to…”. Read it out loud, sign the contract, and put it in a place where it is visible and reminds you of what you intend to do.
- Inform another person [spouse, sibling, friend, parent] that you are engaged in this process of becoming a better listener.
- Decide to listen better along with someone else [spouse, friend].
- Learn and practice to “bite your tongue” when your child speaks to you. Be aware of your urge to speak, to say something, to react, to interrupt, and to get your point across. As best as you can, actively restrain and hold back from speaking, or at least delay your reaction. Do your best to put your own “stuff” on hold and give your child the stage. Be there for them. Expect and know that this may be hard to accomplish, and that this may feel strange at first.
- Listen to the underlying feeling. Reflect and validate your child’s feeling. Recognize and acknowledge your child’s present feeling by naming it; that is, give it a word.
- Check with your child to see if the word(s) fit with their experience. And notice what happens following step 2 and step 3. Does your child open up and elaborate? Does your child seem to feel better or worse? Does your child look at you strangely? [who is this alien parent of mine and what is she doing?]
- Be fully present, as best as you can in the moment, with your child. Be present in the here and now and attend to your child.Know that it is much easier to listen to your child when you limit external distractions and noise, such as cellphones, television, computer, radio, music. Seriously consider taking a break from your cellphone; or even better, turn it off as much as possible.
- Cultivate and practice being still and quiet. Develop inner stillness. Quiet your mind and still your body.
- Learn to catch yourself when you are not listening. Notice if and when you are not present, when you are thinking ahead of what you plan to say next, and when you are lost and engaged in your own thoughts and feelings.
- Recognize and cultivate being conscious and aware of your own feelings, thoughts, physical sensations, reactions, and patterns. Notice when it is easier and when it is more difficult for you to listen to your child. For example, as yourself, “Is it easier for me to listen to my child when I feel calm, alert, awake, centered, grounded?”, and “Is is more difficult for me to listen when I feel rushed, agitated, angry, tired, exhausted?”. Practice listening to yourself and to your inner signals.
- Re-commit to improve the way you listen, and to fulfilling these nine steps.
Sometimes working with a qualified person [psychotherapist, psychologist, counselor, Rav, coach] can greatly assist you in navigating through these nine steps, in getting you on track, and in sustaining your newly re-acquired listening skills.
Stay tuned for part 4 in this series – “Obstacles to Effective Listening”.