Healthy Communication Habits: Listening

By: Kristine Adams Cowan, Holistic Life Coach, Mindful Tiny Humans

It’s closing in on dinner time. End of a long, busy day. You’re tired. You tell your children dinner is almost ready, and they need to begin cleaning up their toys. You continue making dinner. Five minutes pass, and you’re now plating dinner. You poke your head into the playroom to find…your children playing, surrounded by toys, without any clear effort of tidying up. You explain, feeling exasperated, that dinner is now ready and they need to quickly pick up their mess and come eat. The moaning and groaning begins. Dinner is getting cold. A child has now thrown themselves on the floor for dramatic flair. Your other child has continued playing like you do not even exist. Now you are moaning and groaning and, in frustration, your tone becomes intense, your volume rises. You begrudgingly announce that you will give them two minutes to clean up as much as they can, and the rest is going in “toy jail” because you are tired of them not listening to you. They panic clean, and can’t seem to remember where anything goes. You get more frustrated, as you have to walk them through putting their toys away. The timer goes off, and your children scream and grab as many things as they can. You heavy sigh, and tell them to forget it and come eat. You sit down to a nice (cold) family meal, with everyone’s moods, anxiety levels, and temperaments teetering on the edge of destruction…

Sound familiar? This all too common communication breakdown tornado happens daily, in every home, with every family. Trust me. Listening (or the lack of) is probably the number one trigger for causing parents to lose their cool. It’s totally understandable, but it’s also not a lost cause! Check out below for some easy ways to save your family, lower your stress level, and break the cycle

First, ask yourself…

  1. Are you sure they heard you? Incredibly basic, but our little ones often become so immersed in what they’re doing that unless we make a conscious effort to ensure they heard us, it’s definitely possible they did not! Saying “ok?” at the end of your request and expecting an “ok” back is dangerous territory. This is not a sign of them listening – be warned. Playing with those blocks is probably more interesting than you asking them to clean up the blocks. Especially if you’re a parent who often tags “ok?” to the end of their requests; your child can just get used to automatically saying “ok” back to make you happy! Their intent is good, but they miss the point. An easy way to combat this is to be sure you’re at their level physically, and hold their eye contact. This is more meaningful, and you can be certain you have their focus. Also swapping that “ok?” for ” what did Mommy ask you to do?” can be very eye opening. This asks for their engagement immediately and let’s you know that they did or did not actually hear you. These are two simple ways to set them up for success at the moment of the request, as opposed to us becoming frustrated when we check back in 5 minutes later and they haven’t even begun
  2. Remember, they’re children, and children are naturally much slower paced than adults. We often live in a rush-rush-go-go world, and kids just want to study a blade of grass or play in their imaginary world from sun up to sun down – and this is BEAUTIFUL! We could actually learn a thing or two from our little ones on this front. On a similar note, kids often selectively listen because they want the fun and excitement of life, not the mundane, everyday, “boring” stuff (like tidying up). Don’t be afraid to reward good listening behaviour – and to remind them of this reward at particularly challenging times. In our home, we have gem jars for each child, and every helpful, kind, cooperative, and good deed earns them a gem. A full jar means a trip to their favourite toy store. Find a way to entice your kiddos while they’re learning the importance of good communication

We’ve looked at how our children are listening, now let’s focus on how WE are communicating.

  1. Are you on their level mentally? Meaning, are you expecting too much of them with your ask? Are you using language they understand? Do they know how to do what you’re asking? Sometimes in the rush and whirlwind of being adults and all that entails, we forget that they may not actually be able to mentally comprehend what we are asking of them. Be sure the language, comprehension, and physical act of your request is doable before you leave them to it. A great way to double check this is the “what did Mommy say?” approach. It will become very clear very quickly if they have no idea what you’re asking of them!
  2. Try your best to speak from love and kindness, not frustration and disappointment. This can be very challenging, especially at the end of a long day, or if listening is a longstanding issue in your household. This is hard. And that’s okay. Recognise that it’s hard for you to speak from a place of kindness at the moment, and step back. We need to be the guidepost in the conversation, meaning if we lose it, they are much more likely to lose it; if we speak calmly and kindly, then they are more likely to speak and react calmly.
  3. Finally, are we focusing our attention on the ask, or are we asking and multitasking? Our children often read how important something is by how much attention we give it. If our requests of them are given off the cuff then they may respond with the same level of attention.

Putting in the work to overcome this hurdle will be incredibly beneficial to your relationship with your children. Speak with patience, and with an awareness of who they are as a child, having the insight into how to best set them up for success. Listen with patience, to their hearts, and to understand. Be sure you are all in a listening frame of mind, give each other the attention you deserve, and watch your relationship grow

Kristine is a Holistic Health Coach at Rebalance London Naturopathic & Wellness Clinic


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