Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn
By Molly Brown Koch
Teenage daughter to her mother: “You never listen.”
Mother to her teenage daughter: “I heard every word you said.”
Did the daughter say exactly what she means, and did she mean what she said? If she didn’t, how can her mother know what she really means?
And did Mom miss the underlying meaning by taking her daughter’s words literally? What is the secret to real communication?
Let’s begin with listening, because that is where real communication begins.
What parents hear in a Keep the Connection Workshop is: “Learn to listen and listen to learn.” There is more to listening than hearing words. There’s getting to the heart of what a person is trying to say.
Unfortunately, the words they use are often quite contrary to what they mean. For example, when a child says, “I don’t care,” he probably cares deeply, but does not know how to handle a problem he’s having. If you take the words literally, you’ll miss the point. His point.
So, how can you get to your child’s underlying meanings? What does it take to listen?
Let’s say your child comes to you, perhaps he looks troubled, and very hesitantly he says he wants to tell you something.
This is a very special moment. He stands before you, vulnerable and shaky, and you can see or sense that he is distressed. And he’s fragile. The slightest misstep can result in his saying, “Aw, forget it” or “Never mind.”
He has a need to tell you what is disturbing him, and, at the same time, he’s worried about your reaction to what he has to say. If he came to you at an earlier time, and you were receptive and compassionate, he will now trust you enough to reveal his secret.
How do you begin? Not with questions, please. Spare your child the question you would ask to find out what is going on, because the minute you ask your question you will steer him away from his own thoughts and feelings. He needs the freedom to begin at his starting point, not yours. You don’t know how he wants to begin. You don’t know when he will feel comfortable enough and safe enough to reveal the details of his problem.
So, here’s an opening line that might encourage him to open up: “I can see this is important. Let’s sit down, and you can tell me about it.”
Now settle in somewhere and place yourself where you can observe his facial expression, his eyes, his hands, his body language. Settled in, all you need to say is, “Okay, Johnny, I’m listening.”
It may take a few minutes for your child to get the courage to talk. He may need time to put his feelings into words. Or, he may not be able to put the details of his story in any kind of order. Your silence gives him time to work it out. If the silence begins to make you feel uneasy, get up to get something to drink for both of you—it will relieve the tension. And, by the time you return, he may be ready to talk.
In a similar scenario in my book, 27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children, there is a dialogue between a mother and her 6-year-old son. She does not prod or probe, but silently and compassionately she conveys the support and encouragement he needs to feel safe enough to reveal his private thoughts.
She does not criticize or pass judgment on what he is saying, and without ever having asked a question, she learns what is on her little boy’s mind and the burden he is carrying on his shoulders. While he talks, he sorts out his thoughts and his feelings and, most importantly, he sorts out his values for himself. And the mother, having learned how to listen and having listened to learn, finds out just a little bit more about her son—who he is, what he thinks, what he feels, and what he values. BC
Molly Brown Koch is the author of 27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children, published locally by Sidran Press. Her book recently received the National Mom’s Choice Silver Award. You can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. September 2008