Doesn’t it feel nice when someone listens to you?
Open communication is such an important part of fostering a relationship with our kids. It’s that relational connection that is the foundation of all our parenting, and hopefully what will continue to grow after our kids have grown up.
However, listening well doesn’t always come naturally to us. Many of us never experienced active listening as a kid or had someone who showed us the importance of open communication. But we can do that with our own kids. We can make the effort to learn important communication skills and instill this value in our family.
Here are my top tips for being a parent who listens well:
(And remember, these work for all our loved ones, not just our children.)
Focus and listen.
Give your child your full attention as often as you can. We are busy, so we can’t do it every time, but make an effort to show your kids they are important to you, and you want to hear what they have to say. Be cautious not to interrupt.
Use warm, welcoming body-language.
Make eye-contact and nod along. Sometimes our body language can discourage someone from sharing with us, so be cautious of how you’re holding yourself.
Listen to listen, not listen to respond.
Sometimes when others are speaking, we focus more on what we can to say in response, instead of listening just to hear them.
Respond in appropriate manner.
Sometimes kids just need us to listen. Sometimes they need help solving a problem. If you’re not sure what your child needs in a certain situation, ask them. They may not know what they need, but we can refrain from giving advice or trying to solve a problem that doesn’t need our help.
Practice active and reflective listening.
Repeat back what you heard. Ask for clarification or ask an open-ended question to keep kids talking.
- “So, what I am hearing you say is …”
- “Let me reflect back what I heard …”
- “Thank you for sharing that with me. I am hearing you say …”
- “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying …”
- “Can you explain what you mean by …?”
- “And then what happened?”
- “How did that make you feel?”
Validate how they feel.
When kids share something about how they are feeling, we can validate how they feel. This can be as simple (and powerful) as, “I can hear how sad you are.” or “I can see how angry that made you.” Validating how they feel shows we care. We don’t have to agree with their feeling, allow all the undesirable behaviors that sometimes come with big feelings, and we aren’t coddling their emotions.
Our own judgements about what our kids tell us can cause of to overreact. Sometimes we react out of a parenting fear. Remember, that if we overreact to the small things kids tell us, they may be fearful to tell us the big things later on. This doesn’t mean we allow them to “rule the roost” or that we are permissive when they do things. It means we respond with intention, not a reaction.
Be excited to hear them.
Let your kids know you WANT to hear them and what they have to say.
Our kids will love to know that we want to hear what they have to say and that we are a safe place to share their lives.
By Emily Scott, PhD
You may also like: