A while ago, when I was at the height of my depression, my daughter and I were getting ready in the morning. I was getting ready for work and she had just started school so was fumbling her way through the morning chores. I was getting impatient with her not brushing teeth as fast as I wanted her to as constant rings on my phone was indicating how stressful my day was going to be at work. I let my building anger and frustration out on my 4.5 year old and shouted,
"Why are you not brushing your teeth!! You are making both of us late!!"
She got so upset and started crying and with that, I was consumed by guilt. My knees were wobbly and I couldn't carry on anymore. I sat on the floor with my daughter on my lap and tears trickled down my cheeks. Once, I have calmed her down and gathered myself up, in one of the most embarrassing yet profound moments in my life, I justified my behaviour saying
"I was trying to teach you to hurry up"
My daughter stopped brushing teeth and turned around with her big brown eyes directly staring in to me and asked,
"You were shouting at me mummy, that's not teaching is it?".
In that split second, I decided to change my life for the better. I thanked her for pointing that out and decided that work could wait. Four and a half years later, at this very moment I write this blog, my life is different and my bond with my child is stronger and sincere. I LISTENED to her.
What does listening involve?
Listening is one of the most neglected skills. We are taught to comply from a very early stage but we are hardly taught to listen. Listening is to pay attention to what the other person says as well as not say. Listening is about making the other person feel listened to. Listening is about managing our urge to rescue, advice, feel like a victim or look for an opportunity to satisfy our ego.
Ask these questions yourself?
When you listen to someone do you
- wait for your turn to talk?
- organize your thoughts in your head, so you know what to say next?
- interrupt and command
- trying to rescue and offer advice immediately
- tell that you have experienced similar
- if they are upset, tell them not to be upset as everything is going to be o.k
If you are, then you will have to think twice about your listening.
What does active listening look like?
- creating a safe space
- eye contact (but not too much - tune in)
- sit close to the speaker (having a table in between indicates distance)
- saying things like "I am listening", head nodding, "hmm" etc
- be non judgemental
- offer help in an open ended question like "What help would you like"
- pay attention to their body language
Trust me, it's taken me years of learning to master my listening. I still experience occasional fumbles in situations. It's a difficult skill to listen however, once you have mastered it you can expect great results.
- improved rapport
- bond and attachment with your children
How does trauma affect our listening?
Listening requires 'being present' in the moment. It requires patience and calmness. When we haven't dealt with our traumas from the past, it has a significant impact on the way we interact with our children. In short, unless we have resolved our own emotional baggage, we pass it down to our children. We are as parents more likely to respond in three ways.
Accuse children of something: When children try to tell us something, we may end up blaming them.
Rescue them by offering advice, taking actions for them or jumping in to conclusion that it's someone else's fault
Trying to speak about your own despair and remind children of sacrifice you have made. This is playing the victim.
Any of the above responses detach children from you. As adults, we are responsible for them. It's not vice versa. Our traumas install hard beliefs in us that alter our ability to stay present and create a safe space. Our unresolved trauma bounce amongst those three responses none of which bring us healthy or positive results with our children. In the example, I have shared,
- I accused my child of not listening instead of finding ways to get her listen
- I shouted instead of being present and calm
- I took the building frustration and anger on her instead of calming myself down.
All the above responses were caused by my poor mental health which was going on as a result of unresolved trauma. Now, four and a half years later, I sit next to her even if it takes 45 minutes for her to calm down and then we have a conversation and agree on ways to do things. My daughter doesn't comply and I don't want her to. She feels safe that she will be listened and therefore, she allow herself to be her. Isn't that we wished we had from our parents?
This blog is not a patronising set of instructions. As humans, we are meant to experience highs and lows. If we are consistent with our listening, our children tune in when we experience our lows and they support us. We have a responsibility to end generational patterns of unhelpful coping mechanisms that haul our creativity, happiness and vibrant individuality. How true to them do you want your children to be and what role do you want to play in creating that reality for them? How much of your baggage are you prepared to leave with your children?
Lots of love