“Honey, how was school today?”
“I told you – fine.”
A friend of mine relayed this conversation, sad and frustrated. After listening to her teenage son grunt out a series of monosyllabic answers to her questions, this mom looked at him and just sighed in exasperation. She then backed up and tried again, this time imploring him to share.
“Honestly, Caleb, why won’t you just talk to me?”
“Because you don’t listen and you wouldn’t understand!” And with that, he stormed out of the room.
When I was writing For Parents Only, I held countless anonymous interviews with teens and tweens all across the country and found this to be an all too common mindset that kids have about their parents. Kids tend to stop talking because they perceive their parents as rotten listeners. In fact, 80% of kids said that instead of wanting their parents to fix the problem, they first needed them to hear, acknowledge and tend to the emotions behind the problem. This was true for both girls and boys. Moms, we should ‘get’ this because as I tell husbands in the book we wrote for them, when we vent about our problems we aren’t looking for a solution – we’re yearning for someone to listen to our feelings. It turns out – it is the exact same with our kids. Even the boys.
“You don’t listen to me!”
Never have 5 little words been packed with more hidden meaning. In most cases, the kids are simply saying “you aren’t hearing what I feel!” They want us to show empathy first and foremost. Amazingly, when you put aside your initial jump-to-solve-it reaction (“I can’t believe your teacher said that! I’m going to email him right now.”) and instead acknowledge your child’s jangling emotions (“Oh, wow, were you embarrassed when he said that?”) our kids actually feel like we’re listening.
In addition, “you don’t listen to me” is sometimes a signal that the kids are feeling “you seem to make up your mind before hearing what I have to say.” And sometimes they are trying to tell you that they “don’t feel safe” talking to you because they know you’ll “freak out!” (See previous blog)
The good news in all of our research is that our kids actually do want to talk to us. And they consistently said they will open up to us once we prove we’re safe, open-minded, and empathetic. Even if you’ve previously made your kids feel like you weren’t listening – without realizing it! – you can start again new! Prove to your kids by way of calm reaction and focusing on their feelings (rather than avoiding them), that you want to listen.