When my kids were young, it was so easy to know what was going on in their heart because it usually came out of their mouth nonstop. The constant stream of random questions along with verbal observations about life provided a wide open window into their heart.
I loved it. I just love to help people figure things out—especially little people.
But as my little ones grew older, they naturally grew a little more guarded making it difficult to know what was really going on inside their heads. Getting my boys, in particular, to talk can feel like pulling teeth! But engaging my kids is something I am passionate about and very few things provide more peace, especially with teens than knowing what’s going on in your child’s heart. So with fewer words to aid you, you must work on your nonverbal perception. It takes work, but you can hone your perceptiveness to help figure out what your kids are thinking and feeling.
How can we be more perceptive? How can we add depth to our perception? Here are four ways.
How often do we hear or see things that we don’t really mentally process? This is terribly easy to do with the distractions of our culture. I have been guilty of being so engrossed in my computer that I did not even look up when my daughter came home, tears running down her face as she ran up the stairs. I missed a huge opportunity to discuss deeply hurt feelings from the heart of my child. I was not looking. It may sound a little simplistic, but it’s absolutely crucial that we make an effort to just look at our kids.
We should question our kids. This does not mean to interrogate, but it does mean that every day we should take an interest in our children’s lives. It is the only way to really know what is going on in their hearts and minds. The earlier you start questioning, the more accepted and natural your questions will be to your children. If you wait till they are older to start engaging, they may be a little guarded. But it is never too late! Just start floating questions out there:
“Who do you like to eat lunch with?”
“Which of your friends is the funniest?”
“Who is the kindest?”
“If you had to go to work today, what would you want to do?”
“What is the biggest mistake you ever saw someone make?”
Then try to catch an answer. Sometimes you will not get one. I have heard “I don’t know” hundreds of times. Just keep floating questions and developing the best approach for each child. iMOM has hundreds of free printable TALK cards with questions on every topic. Cut them up, put them by your child’s bed (they don’t really want to go to sleep, so they will talk to put it off!) or in a jar on the dinner table, and make it a tradition to talk.
It really helps to remember that you are listening with the purpose of trying to understand your child. Your listening should be processing but (and this is very important!) not necessarily forming a response for your child. I am not very good at just listening without processing solutions. I became acutely aware of this from Emily, my most expressive and affectionate child. Emily likes to express every emotion and drama of the day. Of course, I like to respond with lots of instruction about how she should have handled the situation and what the outcome could have been had she followed my instructions. This scenario was playing out quite a bit in her sixth-grade year due to some girl drama with her little group of friends.
Finally, after about three such situations in one week, she covered my mouth, mid-sentence, with her hand, burst into tears, and said, “Mom, please stop telling me what to do. I just want you to listen and hold me!”
If you offer solutions without waiting patiently to see what else may be forthcoming, you can miss out on really good information that may change your ideas. A child, especially an older one, may shut down if you start offering your opinion without all the facts. In my experience, you have to wait more often with boys than with girls. My girls are never worn out from my questions and delight in explaining every detail of their day. With the boys, I have to be much more strategic. I have to gauge where they are that day on the “chatometer.” Then if they run out of words, I have to just be quiet and patiently wait for another opportunity.
Over the years, I have slowly been learning to think, engage, listen, and wait. Some of those things come more easily to me than others, but all are important to add depth to my perception and help me figure out what’s going on in my kids’ hearts. And how many things are more important to a mom than that?