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  • Lori K Walters

How to get your big kid to actually HEAR you: Wisdom from a Parenting Coach

Updated: Mar 1


"I just want them to hear me," says every parent of teens and young adults. It may sound sad and lonely, tired and pleading, or ready to explode. But the words are the same: parents want to be heard. As their kids become more independent and more connected to their friends and activities, communication changes and there is often a sense of disconnection between parent and child. Misunderstanding each other’s words. Unable to find common ground. Emotions splattering. A space between your hearts. You wonder, how did the disconnection happen? It wasn't necessarily a particular moment; more like an accumulation of incidents. And then, one day, you realized that you say things like, You never listen, You always make it about you, You're so defensive, You say you’re listening but you you’re not. I know how frustrating it is to repeat the same thing a hundred times to seemingly no effect. Or to ask them to do just one thing but it never gets done. It’s exasperating, exhausting, infuriating and disheartening. And, even though you don’t mean to, you end up telling your kids, in so many words, that the way they're listening to you is wrong. And that certainly doesn't encourage them. They come back with responses like, It doesn't matter what I do or say, it's never good enough for you, You’re always nagging me. Or you get the stone-cold silent treatment. Then it’s a repeating loop. You back away a bit and stop sharing but the more you hold back, the more your resentment builds. And when you finally do talk, your reactivity takes over and triggers you and what comes out of your mouth blocks connection even further. Yes, a repeating loop. And, over time, it shapes your relationship. ~ But things are different when you know how to ask to be heard. As a parenting coach, I hear lots of people talking about how to listen to our kids - let’s also give some attention to how we go about being heard.

1:How you go into the conversation

If you want to be heard, if you want your child to get what you’re saying in their head and their heart, you’ll want to speak in a way that creates and supports connection. And this means first checking yourself for reactivity. Especially if you’re approaching what might be a challenging conversation, see what reactivity is present for you. There might be thoughts like, “They should or they have to.” Perhaps judgements about them being inconsiderate, uncooperative, unappreciative or self-centered. Maybe you’re feeling combative, scared, guilty, sarcastic, powerless, etc. If you're honest with yourself, you might even have some presumptions like, They just want to have control, They always have to win, or They don't care about my feelings.

If you start a conversation with all this going on inside, you're not likely to express yourself well, nor in a way that invites others to hear you.

So, talk to another adult, go for a hike, meditate or do whatever you need to do to ease your reactivity, open your heart and get centered first. Your grounded energy will help your kid relax and open their mind and their heart to what you have to say.

2:Where and when the conversation takes place

If you want to have a heart-connecting conversation, choose conditions that will support you being heard in the way you want.

It happens pretty regularly in busy family life that we jump into a conversation when an opportunity presents itself, i.e., there are a few free minutes. And that may be bad timing or a less-than-ideal environment. Like when one person wants to talk about their tough day and the other just wants to get a meal on the table. Or when one person is stressing about their homework and another person is determined to get one more thing crossed off their list tonight.

It's not just what will work best for you, your day or what you want to get off your chest. It’s about the conditions that support your connection with your child. Would that be sitting somewhere or going for a walk? Morning or night? At home or elsewhere? Face to face or shoulder to shoulder? All of these factors affect the composure, clarity and receptivity of both you and your child so be intentional.

3: Are they willing to listen?

It's important to respect your young adult child's autonomy and that means asking them for an authentic yes or no as to whether they’re willing to listen. If you want their true answer, start by letting them know the topic you want to discuss and why.

For example, “I want to talk about our morning routine. I would like you to hear my ideas for reducing the tension between us as we're trying to get out the door. I'd like to hear your ideas too. Are you up for that conversation right now?” Or “I’m feeling upset about my day. I don’t really need any advice. I'm wondering if you're available to just listen then and give me a hug?”

By showing this kind of respect and asking if they’re willing, and giving clear information about what you want to be heard, you give your child the ability to offer their presence freely and, if they agree, the opportunity to prepare to listen in a certain way (e.g., contribute some ideas, just be empathetic, explain, etc.).

And if they say No? Well, that just happened to me this week. In conversation with my son, I said that I had a "mom thing" I wanted to say and asked if that would be ok. He said, "Actually no. Instead I'm going to ask you if it's really something you have to say. Do you believe I wouldn't think of it on my own?" Um, oo, I didn't want that answer... Sometimes all we can do is accept their response. Maybe they prefer to talk about it next week. Or maybe it’s not going to be on the table right now. I kept my thoughts to myself, noticed my frustration with not being able to "help" and found my center again. Sometimes our job is to find a way to be with what is.

4: Do they understand your intention?

Of course, what your main intention is to connect. It may also be that there is additional information you can give them about what's in your heart: I am thinking that sharing our ideas about our morning routine will help us appreciate what’s working and show us just one small area that could be adjusted to work a bit better. I won't be asking for some big changes; I'm just wondering what we could tweak.

Then add some reassurance about your emotional state, things like, I won't be blaming anything on you. I just want things to go better for both of us. I am not feeling triggered right now. I see that you've been working hard to make this work for both of us. I love you and I want to talk about this because our connection is important to me.

~ When you make a request of your child for the kind of listening you want, you are supporting yourself to be heard. Being seen and heard are fundamental human needs and that doesn’t evaporate when we become parents. As our kids move toward adulthood, we want them to continue knowing who we are and feeling connected to us. You are also showing respect for your child and giving them a sense of choice regarding how and when they support you. And that kind of respect has a lasting impression on our kids. It fosters trust and compassion. It builds connection.


What are your old stories about deserving to be heard? In what ways are you making yourself difficult to be heard? What's in your heart that deeply wants to be heard?

With you on the journey, Lori

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