Yes, you hear your children. You hear their whine for more food at 9pm when you tell them it is time for bed. You hear the screams when one sibling shoves another, and that one shoves back. You hear their hysterical crying when you tell them no more TV. When you communicate with them, are you doing so in a way that translates to their specific mode of understanding? Are you using these behaviors as feedback? Do you know what their love language is?
Love- it isn’t enough to just love your children. We all do in some shape or form. They need to feel that love, and your job is to determine what their love language is. There are five that are mainly identified as primary: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
Think about it- physical touch is way down. Acts of service? It can be tough to do when you can’t interact closely with people. Quality time? Between balancing your work, their school, and lack of childcare options, the amount of time available for quality interactions is decreased. Receiving gifts…hmmm…this is open for interpretation, but I know that my budget has decreased recently so there aren’t any more Legos-on-a-whim purchases. Words of Affirmation? I have heard so many parents out and about screaming, “Don’t touch that!” “Put your mask on!” “Sit straight in your chair for Zoom!” (me included)
So let’s figure out how to listen to our children in this new landscape, and respond in their particular love language in new and creative ways. I am going to give some examples, maybe they resonate with you, maybe they spark a new way for you to listen.
Listening With My Whole Being
Yesterday, my son came home from “school” and told me he was going to watch TV. Well, traditionally, in our household kids don’t just flick on the TV whenever they feel like it. They need permission, and permission is dependent upon things that need to be done, be it cleaning up, homework, or having a conversation with mom. I told him this, and immediately tears sprung from his eyes and I heard the hysteria creep in. He had kept everything in, bottled up all day. He just needed to veg out and let go. I listened. I put a time limit on it, yes, but I truly listened- not just to his words because he wasn’t able to express why he needed to watch TV, but I listened to his body language, tone of voice, and eyes.
This is a love language for him- when I can understand what he needs without him being able to completely articulate it. I can understand because I am mom, he is one half me. I recognize in him parts of myself, and the other parts I don’t recognize you can be damn sure I try to understand using all of my mom spidey senses. In this new terrain, “Listening With My Whole Being” is a love language.
Being Physically and Emotionally Present
I dropped my daughter off at soccer practice and went across the field to kick a ball with my son. A kind dad coach brought her over 10 minutes later because she was crying- she was scared because she didn’t see me. I then sat on the sidelines and made sure to catch her eye every time her gaze flicked over, giving a surreptitious thumbs up.
This is the girl who also wants to sing me new songs that she made up, ask questions regarding my feelings for her dad, and tell me ALL about her BFFs new dog. I can’t get away with the common, “Uh huh. Yep, sounds great. I’m listening” BS. She wants me to be present for her, both physically and emotionally. She wants to be in the same room as me, sleep in bed with me (I compromised and put a sleeping bag on the floor thanks to a suggestion from my pediatrician), and give me hugs all the time. She wants me to LISTEN and RESPOND thoughtfully. This love language is “Being Physically and Emotionally Present.”
Giving Them the Tools To Do Hard Things
This little one is also the same girl who asked me repeatedly how to get to her classroom once school started, how she should know where to get on the bus after school, what happens if she forgets where her homeroom is. I heard all of these fears. I also heard her apologize for being so afraid.
I put the car in park. Almost in the middle of the street, but thankfully had the sense to pull over. I whipped around to the back seat to face her. “You never have to apologize for being afraid. You don’t have to be sorry for your emotions. THAT is what feelings are there for- all feelings are for feeling! It is how you deal with your feelings that is up to you.” (PS- thank you Glennon Doyle for my new Bible, Untamed, that helped me articulate this). She told me that I told her that it wasn’t ok to be afraid. Have I told her this in the past? When she was scared, have I said, “Don’t be scared, there is nothing to be afraid of”? Yikes. I bet I did.
I continued to tell her that we can do hard things. Yes, we can be afraid, but we can still do these hard things. I also told her that I believed in her, and we talked through some scenarios to show her that she is so much more resourceful than she gives herself credit for. “Ok, what if you get lost? What would you do?” “Ask an adult?” Yep. Bingo, kid. This love language is called “Giving Them the Tools To Do Hard Things.”
Tools might mean coping mechanisms. They might mean problem-solving modeling. Building confidence is a tool.
Empathy and Impermanence
“This is the worst day EVER!” “I am NEVER going to be able to get all of my work done!” “My sister is ALWAYS mean to me!”
Sigh. These exclamations of extremes are heard in my household on a regular basis as of late. Emotions are running high, and sometimes it seems easier to just blame it the absolutes (always and never) as opposed to confronting challenges head-on.
My responses to these absolutes are along the lines of, “I can see why it might seem that way. Let’s think about a time when it wasn’t like this…” or “I have felt like that before. Then I realized that…” Letting them know what you get why they feel the way they do, but things change. No feeling is permanent. This is a love language of “Empathy and Impermanence.”
Note- letting them vent is a big part of being that vessel for their emotions, but venting can be a slippery slope into pessimism. Parents, it is our job to determine where the line between venting and negativity is…for both our children and ourselves. Our attitudes and outlook are contagious, so check your vibe alongside your child’s.
I sincerely hope you are able to tap into the secret communications that your children are sending. They are showing you what they need and how they need it in so many ways, and we are scientists, using educated guesses to guide us along the way. Emotional outbursts, failures, reactions, this is all feedback. Take it in, process it, and be that scientist who keeps trying until she/he gets it right for their child.
Cheers to your journey in this emotionally unique terrain we are living, you are strong, you are a good parent and you can do hard things!
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