Listening with intention to our children is critical. If we want our children to know that they are seen, then we need to listen with intention. Not just hear their words, but also be fully present and engaged in the process of listening. Mindful listening and active listening are other terms that also capture the essence of listening with intention.
Think about what you are hoping to convey to your child when you have a conversation with them – the deeper level of what you want to convey, not the immediate subject matter. When I think about what I wish to impart to my children, it is this: I want them to know in a felt sense that they are loved and precious beings. Their knowing this deeply, throughout their whole being, is entirely dependent on how they see themselves reflected back by their dad and I.
It works like this. A child thinks, “If my parent/caregiver/attachment figure believes that I am worthwhile, then I am worthwhile. I know that they believe that I am worthwhile because I can see myself, my true self, reflected in their eyes.”
And how do we reflect back to them that they are worthwhile? We listen to them mindfully, compassionately, without judgment and with all our senses. Look up from your screen, book or whatever you are doing and give your child your eyes. Notice their facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice to pick up clues as to how they are feeling. Listen for the emotion and the need being expressed behind the words, And then let them know what it is you think they are saying. My daughter saying, “I’m bored,” might really mean, “I miss my friend and I’m lonely.”
Now, listening with intention is impossible to do 100% of the time. I try to limit the amount of time my children see me on my phone, but I have on more than one occasion said, “Just let me finish this text.” I also get tired, irritated, frustrated, hungry, and overwhelmed – all of which challenge my ability to listen with intention. So I also practice self-compassion. I do my best and I am human. Sometimes, I circle back and apologize for being distracted. I don’t say it won’t happen again but I might say something like, “I’m sorry I was so distracted just now. I was upset because I just realized I forgot to send a birthday card I meant to put in the mail.”
I work on the belief that if I am able to be present, engaged and listen with intention most of the time, then my children will know deep in their bodies that they are loved and they will feel seen and valued for who they are.
And this is what I wish for them most in this world.