Raising children is tough. Parents are responsible for teaching their kids right from wrong, protecting them from harm, and meeting their basic needs. But inevitably, every now and then, your children will make a bad decision, endure pain, and experience challenges you can’t fix. In those emotional moments, they will want you to be present and listen without judgment. They’ll want your empathy and unconditional support. Most of all, during life’s biggest disappointments, your children will need you to hold space. Here are three helpful ways to do just that.
- Practice Deep Listening
To properly hold space, you must first learn to listen. However, there is a distinct difference between listening and deep listening. Where listening focuses only on what is said, deep listening delves further by sparking a desire to ask meaningful questions, understand intent, and be open-minded. This type of listening encourages parents to resist the temptation to be reactive, in exchange for processing without judgment.
To master deep listening:
- Enter the conversation with an empathetic mindset
- Listen without simultaneously thinking of a response
- Pay attention to your child’s nonverbal cues
- Experience the Current Reality
When listening to their children’s problems, most parents’ first instinct is to offer a quick fix. Sometimes parents offer practical remedies (next steps) and sometimes they offer emotional solutions (statements to minimize negative emotions). But holding space requires parents to take a different approach. Instead of coming to the rescue with solutions or deflections, allow your child the time and space to fully experience their current emotions. Understand that although their problems may seem minor to you, they aren’t to your child. If you aren’t sure what type of parental support is best, ask your child what they’d prefer.
- Avoid Being a Conversational Narcissist
Many people have heard of the term narcissism (a fascination with oneself), but what is conversational narcissism? Conversational narcissism is a title created by sociologist Charles Derber. It describes the act of shifting the topic of conversation back to yourself. Many people commit this faux pas innocently, in an effort to be relatable. Especially during emotional conversations, it’s easy to identify with an experience or feeling and want to share your similarities. But doing so sometimes robs the speaker of their moment to expound. When your child is sharing an experience, be mindful about holding space to hear the full expression of their thoughts and feelings. Keep in mind, it’s possible for you to relate internally without vocalizing those sentiments externally.
As a parent, you always want to find the perfect solution and words of encouragement to ease your child’s pain. But sometimes the best thing you can do to listen more and say less. Offer support by practicing selfless attentiveness and use these three tips to help you hold space for your children during challenging times.