1. “What Does It Mean to Listen?”
Parents who listen are paying attention to both the words and the feelings, because a parent’s role is a) to keep their young person in their thoughts (I love to learn about you and your life; I can’t learn enough), and b) to care enough to respond at any given moment with a brief mix of support and limit-setting. Parents then keep paying attention so they can respond in a timely way when the limits are tested. If this sounds hard, it is probably because we did not have it modeled enough when we were young people.
Tip: “It’s my job to keep you safe,” (i.e. like the dog) is less helpful than talking relationally. “I want so much to feel close to you.” Of course, you may expect snarly in return. But speaking relationally out loud is what counts.
Bigger tip: Reassuring (“It will be okay,”) is less helpful than giving Empathy (“That sounds hard; I’m sorry it’s hard,”) and Curiosity (“How did you find out? Huh. What did you do then?”).
Young people who listen are highly sensitive to three things: a) the word “but”, b) feeling judged, and c) lectures.
a) Try “and” instead of “but”. In most cases it works.
b) Judging others can sneak up on us, as in “constructive criticism”, arguing about who is right, and compliments! Compliments are judgments with a positive coating. Try starting compliments by asking, “May I give you a compliment?” It feels very respectful to be asked before being judged, either positively or negatively.
c) At about word three of a lecture, young people stop listening. We all do.
2. “What is respect?”
Respect is an attitude which reflects our perception of worthiness. To respect a person reflects my own respect for myself. If my history gave me enough positive images of myself as I was seen in the eyes of others (especially adult role models), I will have internalized a sense of self-respect; and I can give respect to others with little difficulty.
If I show a lack of respect (i.e., disrespectful behavior) that is often my hidden request for help. I may also have a rule that I don’t deserve any help, so while asking indirectly for help I will also reject attempts to help me. Welcome to my confusion. Please find a way to help. Your motives are good.
(Next blog: “What about setting limits and boundaries?” and “What are appropriate expectations?”)