Waiting in a pickup line outside the school, I admired the sunset-tinted clouds and watched students emerging from the high school. Noticing movement in my rearview mirror, I glanced up to see a woman pull to a stop behind me. She hurriedly reached for one of the piles of paperstacked on her dash and began to sort. Her son must have been watching for her, because he climbed into the passenger side as I watched. He turned toward her with a wide smile and began to talk. However, as his mom failedto acknowledge he’d entered the car, must less respond to him, his smile faded. After trying a second time to start a conversation, with the same lack of response, he slumped down in the seat and turned his eyes away from her as theypulled around me to leave.
Having navigated the teen years with sons of my own, I felt sad at the opportunity this mom had discarded. Her son offered her the rare gift of being greeted with a smile and conversation at the end of his challenging day — and she ignored it. In The Connected Child, Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine (2007) state that “attentive, active listening helps a child feel secure and models appropriate behavior… By giving children our focus and time, we demonstrate their value and plant the seeds of caring relationships.”
Attentive listening is crucial to the relationships between us and our children, because it shows them what respect looks and feels like.
- Active listeners move to within three feet of others whenever possible, makingsure they’re at eye level with the speaker.
- Greeting others with a warm smileand making eye contact in a relaxed manner communicates a receptive stance to others’ words.
- Expressing curiosity about the speaker’s words with honest, straightforward words of our own welcome further conversation.
- Listening only foran opening to judge, blame, accuse, discount, or ventshows control, not care. Searching for words that appease, distract, or defend myself shows fear, not friendship.
Healthy communication is motivated by a desire to understand the speaker’s unique circumstances, to perceive her thoughts and feelings, and to discern his longings and hopes for the future.
Our children learn about friendship by how we connect with them when they’re young. Forming the foundation of future healthy relationships with our adult children takes practice. No matter how old we are, we can better our communication skills alongside our children.
Investing time with a counselor could be the jumpstart we need. Let’s start here and now!