How to Listen When Your Adult Child Talks About Childhood Pain

As parents, none of us want to hear that our grown children have suffered pain—especially if we were the cause of that pain, or were around when it happened and could have prevented it.

It’s much easier to just believe we did the best we could, the past is in the past, and our children turned out fine. But as much as we’d like to believe that an accusation from our children is simply a matter of their misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or exaggeration, it’s important that we hear them out without becoming defensive, getting angry, or freaking out.

Whether their hurt was inflicted by you or someone else, chances are it could be an emotionally-charged conversation or even a shocking revelation if you’re not prepared. Based on more than 20 years of ministering to moms, here are 10 ways to respond when your adult child tells you about his or her childhood pain.

1. Abstain from reacting emotionally.
Upon hearing of your child’s hurts, your first impulse might be to react emotionally by interrupting, questioning, attempting to clarify, or denying the incident altogether. If your child saw things differently than you did, you will have a strong urge to explain, clarify, or clear up his or her misunderstanding. Resist that urge at all costs. Your explanations could be interpreted as “discounting” their pain, denying responsibility, or defending yourself.

Proverbs 13:3 assures us, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives [and their relationships], but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” When our children open up and talk about their pain, they need to be heard. It’s possible they were hurt by something you don’t remember or didn’t realize was hurtful to them, but it’s important they get the chance to talk about it without the interruption or distraction of your emotional reaction.

2. Avoid a counterattack.
Your child’s hurt may bring up hurts of your own. This isn’t the time to counter-attack with the things they have done to wound you or to have caused your hurtful remark or behavior in the first place. Rise above the opportunity to “get even” in terms of accusation and humbly realize this is your child’s time to be honest about how he or she is feeling.

If reconciliation and healing is your goal for your child, focus on listening and not formulating what you are going to say next. Let your child know you care about his or her pain, not your defense or reputation. James 1:19 tells us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Brokenness on your part can touch your child’s heart. But a “you hurt me, too” response will only add salt to their wound. As they are talking, if you feel your heart rate—or your need to defend yourself—rising, start praying silently that God will help you listen lovingly.

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SOURCE: Crosswalk, Cindi McMenamin