This blog was originally published on Trillium Montessori.org
A few years ago I learned how to really listen. I realize now that before I honed my listening skills, I was hearing my children, but I wasn't really listening. Instead of really listening, I was thinking about my response, or I was wishing that they weren't feeling a certain way, or wishing that they weren't experiencing something. These were the thoughts that occupied my mind and for that reason, I could not truly be listening.
Before I learned to listen, I sat in silence while my daughter, then 4, shared with me her sadness at being left out of a triangle of friends. The silence would have been a fine reaction had it not been for the fact that the thoughts running through my head were, Darn, she is a sensitive child, just like I was. Life is so much harder if you take things personally. I wish she wasn't sensitive.
During my silence I was having flashbacks to my own similar childhood experiences, which would have been fine except for the fact that my inner dialogue would continue: I don't know what to tell her to make it better. I knew that when my own Mom had said "Just go find someone else to play with" that it really didn't help. I would think to my self "I just wish I knew what to say that would help." So I was not really listening well because I was so consumed with my own thoughts.
I learned how to really listen when my daughter was 9. The same situation presented itself again and she shared with me her sadness at being left out of a triangle of friends. Again, I was silent, but now the energy in my silence was different. Because I had learned how to listen, I knew how to really be present with my daughter. After I learned how to really listen I was much more focused on my daughter and hearing what she was telling me. I learned that I did not need the answers. I learned that instead of wanting to take away the situation for her, that it was better to acknowledge the upset she was experiencing with a simple statement "You felt lonely at school today." I learned that if I really listened to her response that I would learn a bit more about the situation.
After I learned how to really listen, I knew that the more my daughter was able to share about the experience causing the upset, the closer she came to finding her own solution to the matter. I learned that I didn't need the answers, she would come to those on her own. I learned that sometimes life is lonely, and that is OK. When I learned how to really listen, I realized that it is not my job as a parent to make everyday a good day or to stop the bad days from happening. I learned that it is my job as a parent to be there for my children when things do happen and to really listen to how they are experiencing life.
When I learned how to really listen, I gave my children the gift of acceptance, regardless of the emotion it was they were feeling. I showed them what empathy is and they experienced what it feels like to really be listened to. Most importantly, I taught them how to listen by my example.
As the school year starts, listen for the good days and the bad days. The days when a new friend is made and when one is lost. Listen for the elation of learning a new skill and the frustration of not quite getting the hang of it. Listen for the excitement of a new routine and the fear of change. Listen for the days when everything went well and the days when something in their behavior indicates things could have been better. In each of those moments, acknowledge what they are feeling and experiencing and then let them show you the way. Less is more when it comes to learning how to really listen.