Our emotions connect us with others more than our thoughts. Specifically, those emotions that reflect our pain and suffering enable us to have deeper connections to our young adults than our “happy” emotions. But both parents and young adults avoid vulnerability and sharing these painful thoughts because we fear rejection or judgment. This is particularly true of young adults who are struggling with the big four development tasks in their stage of life:
- Intention (purpose in life)
If we listen closely enough with the heart, we will hear the struggle they are having in these four areas. Heart listening means approaching the task of listening and understanding our young adults through heartfelt qualities of empathy, sympathy, and grace. Empathy is putting yourself in the other’s shoes. It’s understanding how the person feels. Sympathy comes from the Greek words “sym,” meaning together, and “pathos,” meaning feelings or emotions. We need both – to understand how someone feels and to feel how someone feels. Grace is the love and acceptance we have for our son or daughter, no matter what. It’s a nonjudgmental mindset.
Once we have the right mindset and “heartset,” we can seek an understanding of how they are dealing with their critical life tasks by asking them:
- What is your purpose or overall aim in life?
- What are your unique strengths and qualities?
- How independent and self-sufficient do you feel?
- How happy are you with friends, a girlfriend or boyfriend, and family?
At this stage of asking the questions, listening with the head and the heart are the goals. Hold back on providing your input or opinion that could shut down the communication. So here are the steps to listening with head and heart.
- Ask the question.
- Listen to the response.
- Reflect or summarize what you have heard on two levels:
- The content of their answer.
- The emotions associated with their response.
- Ask them if you understand them correctly.
- You may encourage them to say more about the response they gave. “Can you say more or help me understand better how you feel?”
At this stage of engaging your young adult, the purpose is to build trust. To show that you are genuinely interested in them and not trying to control or steer them toward your vision of who or what they should be. Shifting from being a manager of your son or daughter to a consultant and coach starts with listening. Once you have built this trust and have earned the right to be heard, you can offer coaching or consultation. One parent with whom I worked had to make a mindset change from believing that as a parent who provided for the young adult throughout his childhood, he deserved respect and compliance. Once this parent made a shift to listening and understanding, the young adult, who had become uncommunicative and resentful, began to open up. In this case, changing mindset, heartset, and engaging the young adult through listening made all the difference. We can all do better as parents.