Just Be a Listening Ear (Bite Your Tongue on Dispensing Advice)

listening“Why don’t you tell me about what’s going on?”  “Why? – what are you going to do about it?”

When parents try to take an interest in their kids’ lives, they may be met with resistance, cynicism, or just a general blockade, especially from their teenagers.   What a shame when kids feel that real caring on the part of their parents has an underlying agenda.  They may believe that their parents are just being nosy, trying to butt in where they don’t belong, or that they want to lecture them with something that they don’t want to hear.

The road to independence can be a rocky one, as communication that may have been poor to begin with starts to shut down entirely.   After years of hearing their parents talk about them to other adults (“I can’t believe what Johnny did the other day…”) they become suspicious and can no longer hear when the parent tries to genuinely reach out with caring.

The benefit of providing a listening ear is more for the receiver then the sender.  When the child is able to tell an objective parent about how they are feeling, the correct response is to allow the child to experience the feeling with a simple, “I know how it feels… when I was young I experienced the same thing.”  No trying to fix the problem (“Here’s what you should do…”), no being judgmental (“What were you thinking doing that anyway?”; this leads to a reply/thoughts of:  “What a mistake trying to talk to you about anything…never again”).  Just a simple acknowledgement that the feelings are valid (“You must feel hurt [or angry] [or betrayed] by this situation”) helps the child to work through the feelings without feeling bad about himself.

Children who feel listened to and validated in their feelings can often think up an eventual solution themselves, if there is a problem that needs solving.  “What would you like to do next?”

If there is no problem to solve, then just talking about it can help them work through the feelings.  Perhaps you may even get a “Thanks, I feel better now after talking about.”  And all you did was listen.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  It’s so comforting to just talk out loud with someone who just listens and doesn’t pass judgment, criticize, or give unsolicited advice.  When parents can do this with their children, they learn one way to sort through complicated feelings that need an outlet. 

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