Getting Your Kids to Listen
A special guest post from my dear friend, Kim Fredrickson
*Be sure to tune into my podcast interview with Kim, which releases tomorrow! You don't want to miss it!
We all want to be listened to, respected, and taken seriously by our kids. It’s hard when they don’t listen to us, especially since we have such good things to say! The good news is that there are lots of ways to up the chances our children will pay attention to what we say.
John 10:27 tells us, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
This verse is full of wisdom for us. Jesus had just shared the parable of the Good Shepherd. He explained that the reason His followers listened to Him was because He knows them, and they follow Him.
Notice what is first. He knows them. They follow Him. Following includes listening to Him. This is where we need to focus, on knowing them rather than trying to force them to listen to us. That never works. As we
deepen our relationship with our child, there is a greater chance they will listen to what we have to share.
Here’s the Secret…
Having a strong emotional relationship with our kids makes more of a positive difference than any parenting techniques we employ. When children feel emotionally connected to their parents, they feel known and accepted, and they are much more likely to listen.
To your child, being connected emotionally means,
“We’re on the same side, and my basic emotional needs are being met. If I’m not connected, I feel controlled by your rules, and I am more likely to spend my energy fighting you and trying to get you to see I’m hurting inside. Listening to you will not be high on my priority list!”
There are a lot of things you can do to establish an emotionally close relationship with your child.
— Eye Contact
Babies, as well as small children, soak in love through eye contact. Make sure you make eye contact both when things are going well and when they are not. Set aside your phone, to focus on them.
— Physical Touch
Kids soak up hugs, kisses, and being held. As children grow they may prefer other ways to connect physically, such as sitting close while reading or watching TV together, wrestling, or pats on the shoulder. Get to know your children and what they like.
— Focused Attention
This means spending focused time with your child every day, if possible, by interacting with them on activities that they enjoy. Try to not text during this time. You may feel like, “If I give them any more focused attention I’m going to die!” We already give them lots of attention just to keep them alive!
Spending fifteen to twenty minutes a day with each child builds a deep emotional connection with them that will help them listen to you and feel loved by you. Ask your child, “I’d love to spend twenty minutes with you one-on-one most days. What would you like to do during that time?”
— Validation with Empathy
Validating your child’s feelings helps them feel known and loved. This doesn’t mean you agree with them or see things the same way. The purpose is to let them know you understand what they are going through.
You put yourself in the shoes of your two-year-old, five-year-old, or ten-year-old, and ask yourself, “What must it be like to be my child in this situation? What would it be like for them to have this happen?” You then reflect back their thoughts and feelings while still applying boundaries.
When they know we understand what they are feeling, they become less upset and calm down. More important, it builds a close relationship with them.
Being a Parent That’s Harder to Listen to:
We need to avoid having our “talks” turn into lengthy lectures or sermons. Parents who lecture feel like they had a good talk with their child, but there was no conversation. Often the child on the other end of the lecture will feel like their “talk” was awful. We can learn more about our kids by listening to them than by talking “at them.” A child who expects to be yelled at, or who feels disconnected, will not listen to us.
— Not Enough Closeness
If we don’t have a close emotional connection with our kids, they will appease us, aggress against us, pretend to listen or ignore us.
— Too Busy
If we are too busy to spend time with them, our kids’ internal needs won’t be met, and they will be less likely to listen to us.
— Dismissing or Minimizing Their Feelings
When we try to talk them out of their feelings or tell them their feelings are wrong, we are essentially not listening to the tender part of themselves they are trying to share. They, in turn, won’t listen to us.
Being a Parent Who’s Easier to Listen to:
— Listens More Than Talks
Often our kids may seem like aliens from another planet. We need to listen to find out what is going on in their hearts and minds. As we ask questions, they get to know themselves better too.
— Makes Time for Relationship with Kids
We are busy, and it’s a challenge to get food on the table, do laundry, go to work, and handle all the details of life. Try to let go of things that are not necessary, to make sure you have time to be with, and enjoy your kids.
— Pays More Attention to “Being with” Them Than “Doing for” Them
We often run around doing things for our kids because we love them so much. They benefit from all we do, unless we are so busy we can’t spend time playing, talking, and hanging out with them.
— Listens to and Accepts Their Feelings
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). This helps them feel understood and loved on the inside. We want them to know that we love and care about their inward self, not just their outward behavior.
You love your children. You have so much wisdom to share with them that will improve their lives. It is so normal that you want your children to listen to you. As you deepen your relationships with your children, there will be many benefits to you and your family. Don’t forget to be compassionate with yourself about where you struggle.
Where Do I Start?
Ask God for wisdom and help to discern where you need to begin. Is it in stopping certain ways of responding to your children/teens? Is it in increasing your time together? Is it in the area of listening with empathy?
— Ask Yourself Some Important Questions:
- Do I make it harder or easier for my child to listen to me?
- What gets in the way of listening to my child?
- Were my feelings listened to as a child?
- What is one thing I can try this week?
— Speak to Yourself with Compassion
“I never realized how the way I listen, respond, and connect to my children affects whether they listen to me or not. Yesterday I yelled and slammed a door because I was so frustrated with my kids. I feel bad about this. I don’t want to yell at them. Rather than beat myself up or eat a quart of ice cream, I think I’ll be kind to myself. No one has ever taught me this important information before. I can learn, and I can start today. I’m going to try listening to them more, and give them my undivided attention, even if only for ten minutes. I feel hopeful that being compassionate with myself and my kids will help.”
A very special thanks to Kim for her amazing advice!
Kim Fredrickson is a licensed marriage and family therapist of thirty-plus years. She loves to teach others about the power of self-compassion from a faith perspective. She is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend and Give Your Kids a Break: Parenting with Compassion for You and Your Children. She recently retired from her counseling practice when diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal lung disease that developed as a rare complication from the chemotherapy and radiation she received for breast cancer.
After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, she decided to write this book as a way to have a positive influence in the lives of her adult children and their future grandchildren. Kim wanted to help them with the challenges of parenting when the time came. She knew she wouldn’t be around to hold her grandbabies, and help her children raise them in person. Originally it was only going to be for them. As Kim wrote, she thought others might benefit as well, so decided to self-publish it.
Kim has been married to her husband, Dave for thirty-nine years and they have two grown children. Learn more and read her blog at www.kimfredrickson.com She also writes a weekly patient column for Pulmonary Fibrosis News, Just Breathe…Compassionate Help for the PF Journey. Thousands of patients and their loved ones read her column all over the world.