Your children rely on you as you are their everything. Most often life becomes hectic and we forget as parents to take the time to truly listen to our children and let them know that we hear them.
Our children will come across difficult times and as a parent it is important to always be there for them and start building them up to be strong individuals early in life.
1. Stop moving and stop doing when they speak to you.
By looking up from the task at hand and looking into your children’s eyes, you are indicating that you value their thoughts, no matter how trivial. This provides both a foundation and an invitation for more difficult conversations as they grow.
Tip: If your days are full and you cannot give your undivided attention whenever your child speaks, make sure there is a time of day when you can be all there. Maybe it’s at bedtime, or right after school. When my older daughter was 3, she began asking for “talk time” at night. It involved 10 minutes of her asking innocent questions and telling me trivial things and me giving her my undivided attention. She is now 12, and we still have “talk time” every night. As one would expect, the questions and topics have become more serious, and I am grateful to be part of the conversation.
2. Respect their words.
Maybe it takes time for them to put their thoughts into words. It’s OK; you don’t have to finish their sentences — they will come. Maybe their opinion is completely nuts. It’s OK; you don’t have to agree. Maybe they remember something differently than you do. It’s OK; you don’t have to be “right.” By giving them the time and space to share what’s on their hearts, you are strengthening their voice.
3. Let them speak for themselves whenever possible.
When my children have something they want to tell the coach, the waiter, or the sales clerk, I first let them practice what they want to say — and then they are encouraged to speak for themselves. I will never forget when we were sitting at my child’s fifth grade parent/teacher conference and the teacher asked if we had any concerns. My daughter quietly spoke up to say she loved helping her classmates, but there was one student who made her feel very uncomfortable. The teacher said, “I hear you. I understand.” I was relieved that my child was able to express this feeling of unease in an effort to protect herself. I commend the teacher for validating my daughter’s feelings with her response.
4. Let them be the expert of something.
When my younger daughter was 4, I could not locate my car in a mall parking lot and feared it had been stolen. She quickly pointed out that we were not in the right section, and showed me the way. That night, I deemed her “The Parking Lot Expert” and she beamed. She is 9 now, and still calls out, “Don’t worry, Mom! I remember where we parked!” She is “The Name Expert” in our family, too, because she always remembers people’s names. I also designated her “The Music Expert” because she knows how to tune and play her instruments, as well as sing out beautifully. Children soar when their gifts are affirmed and acknowledged. By letting them lead, we give them confidence to voice their skills and wisdom.
5. Pause before responding when troubling information is shared.
When children describe shocking information or confess to making a poor choice, take a pause and try this response: “Thank you for trusting me with this. You did the right thing by telling me.” No matter how angry you are, or how much you want to scold them, it can take just one volatile outburst to shut down future communications with your child. “Thank you for trusting me with this” opens up both the discussion at hand and the discussions of the future. Think about who you want them to confide in when they are scared, hurt, or worried. If you want it to be you, muster all the grace you have and speak calmly in troubling times.
Listen with your eyes, ears, and heart.
Because someday our children will find themselves in a difficult situation and they’ll have a choice — either to suffer in silence or to speak up. And perhaps that is the moment they will remember your eyes, the nodding of your head, and your thoughtful response. And suddenly they will be reminded that their voice holds value. And when you believe your voice holds value, it can be a life-changer.
Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com and the New York Times bestselling author of HANDS FREE MAMA. A portion of the above post is from her newly released book, HANDS FREE LIFE. In her book, Rachel describes how she finally started living life, instead of managing, stressing, screaming, and barely getting through life. Through truthful storytelling and nine life-changing Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace. HANDS FREE LIFE is now available.