As promised from the last article (if you haven’t read it click here) I want to continue the conversation from the previous blog post about teaching our kids how to listen.
It is so tricky in this screen-dominated age of technology to SWITCH OFF and drown out all the background noise and sound bytes that invade our space. But, we need to create time when we all put away our computers, leave our phones for only important communication with family and friends. In this socially engaged world, doing this can seem almost impossible and can be overwhelming. Even the thought of having a social media fast or break can cause anxiety in people.
So, if that’s too much to do, try implementing technology boundaries around things like meal times and a few hours before bed. You’ll have to put things in place to replace the fixation and in some cases addition to ‘the screen’. Thankfully we live in a stunning part of the world, and if my experience proves right, most children will jump at the opportunity to go for a pre or post-dinner walk on the beach or bike ride. It doesn’t have to be much but why not explore the great outdoors and give nature a turn with our eyes and ears.
Perhaps the first step on this journey of listening and teaching our children to listen is first to re-engage ourselves. It’s so easy to get caught in a world of white noise and forget what listening is about. Set a week aside for yourself and adopt a listening posture. Be intentional about putting your phone away, closing the computer and even forgoing time spent watching My Kitchen Rules, Bachelor in Paradise or your favourite Netflix series.
Find a quiet place in the house, maybe even light a candle and start by taking note of your breathing. Slow yourself down and sink into the world around you. Listen, and you’ll be not only surprised at what you hear but at how you feel.
As the week goes on, maybe even taking some time to journal about your experience. Write down a list of the things you’ve heard and what you feel you could have, or you did miss. It could be as simple as the sound of the birds outside your kitchen window, the distant barking of a dog, the conversations your children have or the way your mother or a friend is speaking to you. All of a sudden, words sound different, and sentence structures tell a more in-depth story, nature calls and listening takes on an entirely new place in your life.
After a week or two (if you’re able or more especially if you’ve enjoyed your week so much and you want to take it further on your own first), suggest it to the family and make sure you start small. Every day or every few days add something new into the equation. Perhaps it starts at meal time whereby outside distractions and devices are excluded from dinner. You might even need to clean off the dining room table so you can eat together as a family.
From there, you might suggest an after dinner walk and being that it’s the weekend and for many, school holidays, stretch it out and sit on the beach and watch the sunset or the twinkling of the night stars. I promise the moments will be beneficial even if there is some opposition at the beginning. It’s like developing a new habit; they say it takes seven days or longer to break the old and embrace the new. It’s worth it, and you’re not only benefitting yourself, but you’re teaching your children a precious thing that they can take with them throughout their lifetime.
So as a first step, switch them off and step away.
Find a space for yourself and then help your kids to do the same. Make it a relaxing time and as per the first step make sure distractions are removed. We are surrounded by beautiful beaches, national parks galore and just the serenity of nature everywhere. Even though quiet is hard to find. It is there if you look hard enough. Have you ever been to the beach at night and just listened to the waves? In the darkness, you can find quiet that stills the soul.
That is the second step; find a space.
The bushland of the Central Coast is plentiful, and we are blessed to live in this part of the world. Whatever time you can afford, 20 minutes or 2 hours – wander outside and listen to the wind in the trees and the birds and wildlife. This is an excellent family time allowing space to breathe and to be surrounded by the vast sky.
With the soundtrack of nature, the waves and no other human voices, let this be the calming beginning to your quiet time. Close your eyes in that chosen spot, breathe in deep the fresh air and learn this disciplined and gentle art of listening. Make sure you practice this a few times before taking your kids with you.
When you take your children for a bush walk and help them see what is around them. Marvel at the wild flowers, stop and bend down and take time to see the beauty in the tiny things. Help your children to take notice of the sun shining through the trees and look at the patterns it creates. Remind them to take note of the different variety of plants and then when you get home perhaps create a project around your wanderings. Maybe Google all of the things they have found and learn how they are suited to that particular environment in which they are growing.
Then, ask them, how do they feel inside themselves when they are in the bush, how does it make them FEEL. As they answer even in the most simple childlike manner help them explore that feeling and rest in that feeling so they can begin to understand their own complex emotions. It doesn’t have to be super deep and meaningful for them to begin the journey of listening to themselves and their environment.
If you find yourself down the beach,
If going outside is not possible for you, create a dedicated sanctuary in your own house. A beautiful friend of mine cleared a small space used for storage in a separate area of her home. She placed white sheets on the walls, laid a rug out, with cushions and minimal embellishments. It is a clear space away from the busyness and gives her clarity for her time to LISTEN.
The third step is; find your time.
To begin with – with the rush of every day, kid’s routines, family arrangements, work and everything else in the mix, choosing a time seems daunting. It doesn’t matter how long; it just matters that you choose.
Find time to breathe after you put your children to sleep, instead of watching the television sit in the dark and be at peace with yourself and your thoughts. Finding this time for yourself to listen, is so important – it is so underestimated in our world where it seems we must be switched on and active every minute.
With your kids, there is always a time to engage and grow with them.
If you find yourself down the beach, while you are playing with them, building sandcastles or going on a shell treasure hunt – ask them questions. Why do you think the wave just knocked your castle down? How did that make you feel? What can we do about that feeling? How can we build it better and stronger for next time?
All these type of questions help them regulate their feelings and emotions and they start to slowly learn how to listen to what’s happening for them and around them and they feel empowered and at peace.
At the dinner table, ask about their day and go beyond what they did to asking questions like; how did you feel when you did that or how did it make you feel when that happened? Help them to explore their feelings and emotions so they can learn to hear for themselves what’s happening within.
Obviously their answer won’t be as deep as an adults and nor should they be, they don’t have the capacity for that.
This is just the beginning, you are just starting them on the journey explore how to listen so don’t expect too much but be encouraged that you are making a huge difference to your child’s ability to be confident within themselves and at peace with who they are.
Art and craft is another amazing way to stop and ask a child where they are at. Their art and craft often reflects what is happening for them within. Never assume you know what the painting is all about, ask them open questions about it so they can express themselves and you will be surprised what you learn. Never ever diminish any little thing they tell you, listen carefully to the answers and draw as much as you can out and then celebrate it with them.
There are so many more examples, reading with them before they go to bed, but not just reading the book but then exploring with them what they think about the story and how it makes them feel, expanding their imaginations to think about being in the story, solving the problems and creating themselves to be in new and fantastical spaces.
In your chaos, find your quiet. It is there. In your busyness, find time to be still. It is there. Help your kids to do the same.
I hope this helps you and your family to breathe and listen to each other and then each individual voice, grasping the beauty of the world around you and what God is trying to tell you. Oh from the eyes of a child the way we see the world. So filled with awe every day and crisp and bright and inquisitive. That is how we should listen to God.
More to come on this subject… I promise.