The other day I said something in a group that I later regretted. It was subtle and honestly I wasn’t sure if it was insensitive or not. Afterwards as I replayed the conversation in my mind, that old feeling of nervous energy began to surface in my gut. I was starting to feel both worry and shame that I may have hurt someone unintentionally.
I called a friend and told them the story. Almost instantly they were full of advice that what I had said in the group was fine and I had nothing to worry about. After I hung up I realized I didn’t feel any better. Now, in addition to worry, shame and regret, I also felt discounted.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”― Brené Brown
Instead of listening and letting me fully express my feelings, my friend had gone instantly to fixing which is so common in our culture. She was honestly trying to make me feel better, but in doing so, had deeply discounted my story. Whether I had said the wrong thing or not, what I really needed at that moment was not advice or problem-solving, but simply to be heard.
Listen Like a Tree ― Grounded, Present and Non-Judgmental
Later, I brought my situation to my journal and wrote it out which allowed me to express my feelings and decide what I wanted to do.
Apply this to Parenting
Deeply listening to your child (of any age) can bring your relationship closer and create a safe place for them to share their hurts and their joys. It can also assist them in letting things go. By being fully heard, we are more able to process feelings and not hold on to them. By doing this, we also learn to tap into our own inner wisdom instead of relying only on what others have to say.
Here are some simple steps you can use in your practice of listening compassionately to your family.
Be Present: Children mostly live in the present moment. In order to deeply listen to your child, you must first drop into a space where you are able to be fully present with them. You must temporarily drop your agenda, drop your distractions, and do whatever it takes to become present to the child in front to you.
Say Nothing: Listening requires us to be quiet. Allow plenty of time for your child to tell their story without interrupting them. Depending on the situation and the age of the child, sitting close, holding them, or simple vocal acknowledgment that you have heard them creates validation. Use your body language to let them know you are hearing them. Listening in this way allows the feelings to be expressed and the stressed brain to become more regulated.
Validate: Once the child feels fully heard, you may want to reflect back what you think you heard and ask if you got it right. Let the child know you get it, but refrain from going into your own story. If you don’t completely get it, ask what it was like for them as you continue to listen.
In summary, compassionate listening requires us to refrain from interrupting; refrain from giving advice; refrain from making judgments; refrain from fixing the situation; and refrain from complaining or making it about our own story.
Listen like a tree, with your full presence, and create a field of safety and comfort for your family.
Over time, the small issues they come to you with will inevitably become bigger issues. This practice will allow them to know that you have their backs, that you get them, and that they can come to you with their problems. If a solution to a problem is wanted, explore it with your child after they feel heard, and allow them to lead.