How to listen to your kids so it makes a difference

I love listening to podcasts while driving and walking. I started listening to Oprah’s Soul Sunday podcasts-so good!

I am a pretty loud, high energy, intense person by nature and am always looking to find the balance of appreciating those strengths and at the same time find that peaceful, quiet, zen-like side to myself.

I consider myself a student of balance in my life, with my inner voice, with my parenting, and how I show up in the world.

So I was thrilled to listen to an interview with Oprah and Thich Nhat Hahn. Nhat Hahn (the proper Vietnamese name to call him) is a Buddhist Monk and peace activist. He has written over 100 books on peace and 40 of them are in English. He went to college at Princeton and lives today in France after being exiled form his country for peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. He is active in the peace movement, promoting nonviolent solutions to conflict.

I had no idea when I began listening to the podcast on an average Tuesday while driving to Trader Joe’s that I would receive one of the greatest parenting tips ever from a peace activist who has no children.

Oprah asked Nhat Hanh about the value of deep listening. After a deep pause he responded:

Nhat Hanh: “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.”

Oprah: “I love this idea of deep listening, because often when someone comes to you and wants to vent, it’s so tempting to start giving advice. But if you allow the person just to let the feelings out, and then at another time come back with advice or comments, that person would experience a deeper healing. That’s what you’re saying.”

And in that moment I was reminded that Deep Listening is at the heart of Peaceful Parenting. I say often that kids (actually all humans) really, really want to be heard above all else. And they really want to be heard by their parents. They want to feel understood. I think the biggest compliment a child can give their parents is “you hear me and understand me”.

Deep Listening to our kids (or anyone for that matter) is a skill….one that needs to be developed and practiced. It requires setting aside our ego, at times our anger and disappointment, at time our goals and dreams for our kids, our expectations and fears and just listen. Listening to relieve the suffering of the other person. Listening so they can empty their hearts. Listening so they feel heard.

I will confess my practice of deep listening has slipped a bit. I have been busy, distracted, and a bit nervous about the end of the school and year and beginning of summer, and the deep listening often goes out the window in times of stress. Which ironically is exactly when I need it most!

So I consider the invitation to deep listening a gift, a reminder, an opportunity to begin again.

How is your practice of deep listening to your kids? Is it time to begin again or recommit to deeply listening to them? Even when you are distracted? Stressed? Even when you don’t like what they have to say? Or are uncomfortable with their big emotions?

Let me be clear deep listening doesn’t mean you automatically give in to what they want or demand, it doesn’t mean you like what they say or even agree with their opinion. Deep listening just means you listen to ease the suffering.

Nhat Hanh says “If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.”

I love this so much. We can always revisit the perception, style or presentation later. But in that moment the gift is to help our kids feel heard.

When you are practicing deep listening, you can use it as an opportunity to go below the behavior to the feelings and needs to really understand what is going on! That is the place where deep connection and cooperation can happen.

Can you improve your deep listening with your kids? Are you willing to work on it?

I am really committed to working on this skill in the coming months. Do you want to join me on this quest? Hit reply and let me know I am not alone in this. I am deeply listening and I want to hear you! 🙂

I dream of raising a generations of kids that feel deeply heard. Can you imagine the problems that could be solved if we all felt heard?

Lisa Smith
About the author

Lisa Smith