Because listening skills are the building blocks for communicating effectively, being a good listener really is the foundation for all positive human relationships! Attentive listening involves not only hearing the words your child says, but also paying attention to how those words are told. Body language and other non-verbal communication can provide clues to underlying messages that are left unspoken, or maybe even contradictory to what is being said.
For example, if you ask your child how her morning was at school and she responds “Good” in a sad voice with her eyes cast down, you may get the message that the day was anything but good, or that something happened that upset her. As you can imagine, being an effective listener to your child is the first step in helping them feel understood and assisting them in solving problems that come up. Sometimes you need to pay close attention to catch the underlying meanings that are being communicated!
As the mother of a very chatty 8-year-old who is passionate about his Minecraft, I also practice the craft of ‘Pseudo-Listening’. This is when your child rattles on and on while you do a variety of things from cooking dinner to sending emails while interjecting an occasional ‘Uh-huh… Wow… That’s awesome!’ or even just repeating the last few words of his sentence. This is a useful strategy for appearing to be engaged, but it’s important to know when to turn your full attention to your child and truly listen up. Some of the best opportunities for quality listening happen at the dinner table, in the car, and at bedtime.
Being a good listener is a skill that many of us need to consciously work on developing. Here are 5 Guidelines for Effective Listening to your child:
1. Ask open-ended questions if needed to get a conversation started. Rather than a question that can be answered with one word (How was your day –> Good.), ask questions that require more elaboration, such as ‘Tell me about your day?’ or ‘What kinds of things did you do today?’
3. Eliminate distractions and focus on what your child is communicating. Be sure to avoid interruptions like texts or emails.
4. Empathize and be patient with your child. Try to view things from your child’s perspective, and encourage them with a smile and a nod of understanding. Allow time for your child to say what they want to say, even if it takes a long time or you think you already know what they are telling you.
5. Recap what you have heard to make sure you got it right. Repeating back makes your child feel that they have been heard. Let them correct you if you got something wrong (and they will!).
Sometimes just listening to your child is enough. They may just need to talk something out or get it off their chest in order to feel better and move on. Other situations may require some problem solving after you have listened carefully and understood what your child is conveying to you. Either way, you have already strengthened the connection and the bond between you and your child just by being a good listener!