My husband, T, and I have become pretty accustomed to the noisy chaos that is our household. With a three year old and a one year old, there’s a lot of talking going around, and the majority comes from our kids. They are both little chatterboxes in their own way, and they completely understand that their words have a purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes we have NO IDEA what the words are or what the purpose is.
Take a ride with us, if you will, in our family car as we travel a few hours south for a weekend trip. H, our 3 year old, insists that we turn the music up when his “jam” comes on. Moments later, he’s yelling at me again, because “YOU DIDN’T ANSWER ME!” and I’m suddenly at fault because I didn’t hear him in the first place, and have no idea what he said. Did I miss something? Apparently. But to him, it was an important “something”, and I need to validate that.
“I hear you, buddy – tell me again what’s wrong?” (fingers crossed).
“I said, I dropped my football! I need it!”
Little problem? To me, yes. To him, it was probably less about the football and more about the fact that he didn’t think I was listening. But I found something out, in that moment. Staying calm enough to respond with “I hear you”, and not reacting with my inner thoughts (“Answer what?! I didn’t hear anything back there.. Maybe talk in a volume that reaches the front seat..”), allowed H to feel validated in his ability to express himself. Maybe I didn’t hear him then, but I hear him now. And his words are important.
“Oh, I’m sorry that happened. I’ll get it when we stop to get gas.” That wasn’t the response he had hoped for, but luckily, he accepted it. Saying “I hear you” when his voice escalated put a stop to the yelling, maybe because he realized that I was, in fact, available to listen and help him.
T and I have become pretty good detectives, and on many occasions, pretty good at fudging some generic responses that seem to satisfy both kids. Our one year old, L, is less convinced with our ability to fudge. To us, “cup”, “cook”, and “popcorn” literally sound like the same word. If you give her a cup, and she wants to cook, you failed. But for some reason, responding first with “I hear you” even works with her.
Adding responses like, “You want something? Show me!” helps us learn her words in context for next time. Ever the imitator, she’s stared to echo “a-yoo” when I say “I hear you”, which breaks up the 45 times she repeats “kado” (color) as I’m struggling to write an email for work. Bonus: she feels validated that her words have meaning to me, even though I’m delaying her gratification a bit. It also buys us a little more time to THINK about what we’re actually hearing! Who knew that “yadoo” actually means sandwich and “duwockies” are sunglasses? “I hear you, show me” helped us to learn these magical “words” along the journey of raising little communicators.
The simple response of “I hear you” is not only universal, but genuine.
We aren’t lying to our kids when we say “I hear you” but don’t technically understand their words. We do hear them – they are trying to tell us something! We encourage communication when we acknowledge them, instead of ignoring them. I’ll be honest, very often I respond to my children with “I hear you, hang on a minute”, but even with that response they know that their words did not hit a wall. “I hear you” is a way to keep the exchanges going and gain a little more understanding of their wants and needs.