Listening isn’t very different from loving – I don’t quite remember where I first heard that but it has stuck with me. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? When you love someone you want to know what they think, understand how they feel, and enter the world which is uniquely theirs, expressed in their own words.
I was introduced to this idea in a resilience workshop I attended, which turned out to be the start of a journey. The facilitator asked two simple questions: ‘What makes it easy or difficult to listen to your young person?’ and ‘How could you listen more often?’ I don’t remember anything else discussed in that workshop, but I went home intent on practising this strategy with my 11 year old daughter.
Well, who was I fooling! Despite my efforts, there were real obstacles to listening: time constraints, home chores, a younger child to attend to, flagging energy levels, unending worries that swarmed my mind. And then there were the ubiquitous screens and gadgets. But I persisted and I soon realised that a paramount condition to listening was to remove the distractions and be truly present in the moment. Call it Parenting Zen!
And when I finally was able to give my daughter the time and the attention, the positive response was almost immediate. We made time more and more often, and soon it became easier to put down that gadget, to clear my head and to truly be there when she seemed like she needed to tell me about her thoughts and feelings.
I felt like I found the key to the most elusive and challenging puzzle to parenting! I went back to the lessons in the workshop and tried some of the other techniques and I have gradually transformed my approach to parenting.
Months later, one winter evening we were walking home after watching the fireworks at Wanstead Flats, and my daughter said:
I will never forget that moment. We stood there by the road and let tears flow.
And this crucial lesson is reinforced time and time again for me as a Peer Parent Facilitator. I attended Mental Health First Aid training and learnt that listening, especially reflective and non-judgemental listening, offered at a young age is the single most powerful tool to prevent serious mental health problems that people face as adults.
Listening is a tool for not only building bridges with young people but also building their own ability to bounce back from challenging real world situations. When you invest your time in listening to them, young people are empowered and can thrive in the knowledge that you truly care.
I’m Ghazal. I am a mum of two beautiful daughters and a Peer Parent Facilitator delivering the EPEC Being a Parent course in Newham. I have been a part of the HeadStart Newham programme for the past three years and within this time it has helped me grow not only as a parent but also as a person.
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