Do you remember the old Verizon commercial where a man would go out to different remote parts of the country and ask “Can you hear me now?” as he spoke on the phone? Sometimes I imagine that is what it must be like for some children. Children so desperately want the attention and affection of their parents. I can imagine a child saying “Can you hear me? Can you see me? Are we still connected?” In the commercial, the man always got the response “yes” because he would follow his question with a pause and an enthusiastic “Good”. However, this is not always the case for children.
One major way that parents can help their child to feel seen and heard is through the way they communicate. Meaning- how they listen and respond. When children share with their parents, they often do not know how to express the deeper meaning. It might feel like they are upset about something trivial. Therefore, it is up to the parent to look for the hidden meaning. What is the child really trying to say? Once the parent realizes the hidden meaning, they can then reflect the child’s feelings back to them. “When children feel understood, their loneliness and hurt diminish. When children are understood, their love for the parent deepens. A parent’s sympathy serves as emotional first aid for bruised feelings. When we genuinely acknowledge a child’s plight and voice their feelings, they often gather strength to face reality” (Ginott, p. 8). Just by acknowledging their child’s feelings, parents have the power to change the direction of the conversation. In order to acknowledge their child’s feelings, this might mean that parents have to unlearn old ways of interacting with their child(ren). Although difficult, it is not impossible!
Another way to help your child feel seen and heard is though praise. Children want to hear the things that they have done well. Parents (let’s be real, humans) can tend to focus more on the things that are wrong, rather than on the things that are right. A great way to administer praise is by clearly stating what you like and appreciate about your child’s effort, help, work, consideration, creation or accomplishments. Rather than making a general statement “You are smart,” it can be more meaningful to recognize the effort that the child put into their work through specific praise. Praise should be a “description that details delight and admiration, words that convey recognition of effort, and statements that transmit respect and understanding” (Ginott, p. 35).
Acknowledging and reflecting your child’s feelings as well as offering specific praise are two easy ways to help your child feel seen and heard. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find that we need additional help in connecting with our children and our families. The Refuge Center for Counseling strives to help families figure out their differences and find new ways to connect. You can find more information about us at RefugeCenter.org.