Youth today want to be heard. They want to know that others understand them and that they have something important to offer in life. They need their parents and other significant people around them to indicate their value by listening and acknowledging their feelings. When they feel like someone is really listening to them and really cares about how they feel, they will experience love and grow into mature, responsible adults.
Parents want the best for their children but too often we believe that what we say to them is more important than what they say to us. We tell them how to feel, how to act and how to think. Then when they don’t listen or do things the way we think they should, we show our disapproval through correction and punishment. This just tells them that their thinking is not right and they shouldn’t feel the way they do. They will believe that something is wrong with them and their esteem will become greatly damaged.
It is important that we take the time to listen to our children and try to understand their feelings. This doesn’t mean we have to approve of everything they say and do or allow them to do something that will harm them in any way. We just have to let them know that it is okay to be different and build a close, trusting relationship with them by loving and supporting them.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Your 6-year-old likes to climb up on the furniture and you are afraid they are going to get hurt so you keep warning him to stay down. However, one day, he climbs on a chair and it tips over, throwing him on the floor and hurting his arm. He cries out in pain and you say, “I don’t feel sorry for you. I’ve told you to stay off the furniture. Now go play and stop crying.” What does this tell your child? Does it tell him that you love him and don’t want him to get hurt? No, it tells him that he is stupid and you don’t care about his feelings. Instead, you should empathize by saying, “Oh no, you must have hurt your arm.” Give your child a hug and then talk to him about why he shouldn’t climb on the furniture. This will help build his confidence.
- Your parents are coming to visit and you don’t have a guest bedroom, so you tell your teenage daughter that she will have to give up her room and sleep on the living room sofa. Your daughter is very angry with you and becomes withdrawn. What message have you given your daughter? That you have total control over everything she owns and her feelings don’t matter at all. Instead, you should talk about how difficult it is for her to share her room for a few days and tell her how sorry you are that you don’t have another option. Then offer to help clean up her room and maybe sit and chat with a glass of hot chocolate. This will show her the importance of doing something nice for another person.
- You come home from work and find a big hole in your dining room window. On the floor lies a baseball that looks a lot like one your 12-year-old son plays with. You know that he walks home with some friends that like to meet and play baseball after school. When your son walks in the door carrying his baseball bat, you confront him loudly with, “What did you do to our window?” Your son was going to tell you what happened but your angry words communicated to him that you have already found him guilty and that you don’t trust him. He yells back, “Nothing, I don’t know what you are talking about”, then goes into his room and shuts the door. Your outburst has turned off any communication and tore down his esteem. You should have calmly asked what happened and given him the chance to respond. You don’t really know if he was guilty of doing the damage or it was one of his friends.
Many problems could be avoided by showing our children that we care about their thoughts and feelings. If we keep open the lines of communication for all the small things in life, they will talk to us about the important things. This also works in all our relationships, so make sure you are listening to people and acknowledging their feelings. We all need to be heard and cared about!