A parent wrote with a question: How can I encourage ‘Grand’ to listen to a grandchild?
While we were working on this topic, it occurred to us that this is a very timely issue with the holiday season in full swing. Not only for grands, but for parents, too. Running around getting ready for an exciting time of year and many of us spending more time with family…busier days means we sometimes forget to stop and listen. Yet, this is an issue worthy of year-round attention!
As a parent, I have had many more opportunities than my Grand to practice listening to my son on a daily basis. PRACTICE. Because it’s not as natural as it may sound.
Yes, I know I feel it is important to take the time to listen to children. What’s hard is to remember to stop and listen in the middle of a busy day. A point I read in an article sticks with me: Listen to the small stuff, because it’s all important to young children. And if you listen to the ‘small’ stuff now, they are more likely to share the big stuff later. And you know they say, bigger kids, bigger problems. It’s true, things that seem trivial to me are very important to my four year old; I guess it’s all about perspective.
So I can see this being an issue for some Grands who are not used to thinking about this every day. Then, you can add in differences in culture and maybe a ‘kids should be seen not heard’ philosophy, and this could become a real issue with even the best intentioned Grands. It takes patience (some days a LOT of patience) and time. WHY? WHY? WHY? Sound familiar? What are the reasons that Grands (and parents) don’t listen – time, patience, authority?
For me, this issue sparked some serious thinking: What kind of listener am I to my own grandchildren? Ok, I do listen, but do I really hear and appreciate what they are saying? Do I always stop and listen or just sometimes? Am I in always ‘in the moment’ with them? Hmmm… here’s how I worked my way through this one on several different levels.
- For me, being with my grandchildren is all about time and a mindset. It’s a special time, yet it also can be challenging. Children ask lots of questions, need explanations and function at a different speed than adults. Like many people of my generation, I was raised with the philosophy that children don’t challenge/disagree with/question adults and parents and adults rule the house, not kids. Still others view communication in terms of who is the authority figure which means children are supposed to listen to adults and not the reverse.
- Reality check: We grandparents have been living with adults for years; our child-centered world was decades ago. We have a different mindset and focus than you parents who deal with childhood issues all day long, every day of the week. So, there is an adjustment of the mind and focus – not to mention the obvious differences in energy level and physical activity – when we’re with our grands.
- Another realization: I love immersing myself in the world of children. Even so…I have trouble adjusting my mind to taking 10 minutes to put on shoes; 7 distractions en route to washing hands; and 50 questions while fixing lunch. All of which diminishes the time I might have spent listening, really listening, to my grandchild’s thoughts and concerns.
- Finally, this is not an excuse or rationalization, but… It’s not that we grandparents are insensitive or disinterested. We love our grands and we love being with them! For me – and I’m sure I’m not alone here – it’s simply that I am not used to be peppered with questions and moving at a much, much slower pace. So, yes, I may not always stop and listen, even though I know I should. Hey, if it’s difficult for 24/7 parents to remember, it’s twice as hard for us to get into the habit.
What to do…
So you’ve tried talking to your Grand to ask them to listen more to your child. You may not be able to change Grand’s approach, so what can you do to help your child?
First, can you acknowledge that Grand may not always (be interested in, have time for) your child’s questions or suggestions while explaining why it is important to you that your child be listened to? Perhaps you could share some tools with GRAND that you, as a parent, might use.
- “That sounds important, let’s talk about it in five minutes, when I am finished.” Or, “One question now, then save the rest for when we are in the car.”
- Make the effort to ask your child for his/her opinion or input.
- Encourage Grand to make some time to sit down to really talk and really listen.
We can’t listen to everything, all the time, yet I think the message this parent wanted to send is that the child is important and valued, too. And stopping and listening confirms this with the child.
In the real world, there are going to be lots of people who don’t listen. You can seize these teachable moments to advocate for your child and also teach your child how to advocate for him/herself as well. If a Grand or parent who is not listening is causing problems for your child, talk to him/her about how they feel and what they can do. Most importantly, by listening to your child, you are providing a model for what you want for both your child and Grand. Which is a good reminder for me during this busy holiday season: Remember to pay attention to the present child, while I am running around to create holiday memories. Listening to my child every day and showing I care about how he feels and what he thinks will – in the long run – have a much greater impact on him than holiday memories.
So, where did all that soul searching get me?
I honestly never thought about this, until I read an article recently: Even young children can form opinions about people, events and things in their lives. They need to express those thoughts and feelings. And even the youngest grandchildren are not immune to the amount of stress families are dealing with today. That stress does filter down throughout the household. Our grands may need us just to listen, so they can de-stress.
One of the best things I can do with my grandchildren is to stop and listen to them – whether it’s a little or a big thing to them (not me). First, I need to stop and pay attention which means doing nothing but listening. Next, I can encourage my grandchild to share more by not judging or trying to ignore his/her feelings; instead I just need to acknowledge them. Lastly, if there is a problem my grands want to discuss or feelings and thoughts they want to share, I can ask what they wish they could do about it.
Need some tips on broaching this subject with your GRAND? Here’s how I would like to be approached (gently!) by a parent:
- Start by saying you read a column recently that got you thinking and you want to share it with the grandparent Then, tell the grandparent how much his/her involvement in your child’s life means to your child and you. Acknowledge OUT LOUD to your grand that while you, as a parent, deal with children all day long, seven days a week… you realize grandparents don’t live in a child-centered world and this is a big change for them. Emphasize that it really requires a different mindset – a child’s everyday world is much faster paced and full of delays, distractions and questions. It takes a different focus to be open to listening to a child…to stop what you’re doing and really listen and talk and that even for you, that can be challenging.
- Share that you just read that children at even young ages can form opinions and feelings about people, places, events and things. They need to express those thoughts and feelings. And what is a BIG thing for a child may seem of little importance to an adult. Further, children’s perspectives while sometimes humorous can make for some interesting discussions, even with young children. Add that you would hope the grandparent would not be inclined to discount or ignore a child’s opinions, thoughts and feelings because of the child’s age.
- Next, gently remind the grandparent that he/she should feel loved and trusted, if and when a grandchild wants to express a thought, feeling or opinion to him or her. That’s a sign of a trusting relationship between the two of them…something that should be nurtured.
- Finally, give the grandparent a tool to encourage more discussion by asking, “What do you wish you could do about…?” This response demonstrates interest and support by acknowledging the child’s thoughts, feelings or concerns without judging them from an adult’s world.
For me, I guess what it really comes down to is this: Being with my grands in the moment. Letting myself be in their world, a child’s world. Not judging them from an adult perspective. Or worse, discounting their thoughts, just because they are children.
Perhaps, this should be the new Mantra for grandparents (including me!):
I will stop and listen to the little and big things in my grand’s life. I will slow my pace and open my ears!
For lots of great tips on how and why to listen to your grandchildren, go to these websites: