Master the art of listening to your kids

One of the best ways we can show our kids we care about their feelings is to take the time to master the art of listening. In a world where we are constantly distracted by our many devices, the ability to really listen is a dying art. Think about the last few conversations you have had. At any point were you glancing at your phone or your watch? Learn how to make listening to your kids your superpower and you’ll see a huge difference!

Why is listening to your children important?

  • Improved communication and trust between parents and children
  • A better understanding of your child’s needs and concerns
  • An increased sense of empathy and connection with your kids
  • Strengthened relationships with your children

Barriers to quality listening

  • Busy schedules and lack of time
  • Distractions and competing priorities
  • Fear of not knowing how to respond or address issues raised by children
  • Lack of patience

Busting through listening barriers

Sometimes our children approach us at inconvenient times. We might be working from home, making dinner, or talking to someone on the phone. When this happens, if possible, take just a moment to acknowledge your child’s request. Let them know you can’t respond at immediately, but that you will in a short amount of time.

“Hey honey, I can see that you want my attention. I just need a few more minutes and then we can talk.”

When you tell your child you will give them your full attention, don’t forget to follow through in a timely manner!

Father bending down to listen to his young son. Listening to your kids is a crucial part of forming a strong relationship.

Being present: How to show a child you are listening to them

Being present with your kids is more than simply inhabiting the same room together. With the ever-encroaching presence of technology in our lives, many of us are becoming consumed by our screens. Our bodies may be there, but our minds remain deeply distracted.

Tips for staying in the listening zone

1. Make eye contact

Put down your devices. By freeing your hands, you’ll free your eyes as well.

2. Avoid distractions

Make sure you have the time to listen. For important conversations, pick a quieter place. Turn off the TV and other forms of entertainment. Take your earbuds out!

3. Pay attention to your child’s body language

A surprisingly high amount of communication is nonverbal. Is your child stiff? Having trouble making eye contact? Is your child acting restless?

4. Take note of your child’s tone of voice

Does your child sound nervous or scared? Are they speaking extra fast or slow?

When we take the time to pay attention to subtle cues, we will be able to better understand and empathize with how our children are feeling. We will catch more of what our kids are really saying vs getting the cliff notes version. Children know when we are just “phoning it in” instead of really being present.

Practice active listening

What is active listening?

Active listening is a communication skill. It is not just hearing what someone is saying like background noise. Instead, an active listener is constantly trying to understand the meaning of what someone is saying. It’s like the difference between listening to elevator music and sitting in a Broadway show. The elevator music is heard but requires very little attention. The Broadway show commands your full focus.

How can you become an active listener?

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Summarize what you’ve heard
  • Reflect back key points
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Show support

All these suggestions require action. It means you are listening intently and are engaged instead of zoning out.

Become an empathetic listener

You can be a decent listener, but if you aren’t empathetic, you will be missing out on important connections with your child. Empathetic listening means that you acknowledge your child’s emotions and genuinely attempt to understand their point of view.

Empathetic listening strives to validate the other person’s feelings in a way that helps the speaker feel understood and valued.

Avoid judgements

When we are busy judging what our children are saying, we are not really listening to them. Approaching conversations with curiosity and an open mind will save us from getting stuck in our own heads.

Refrain from interrupting

Don’t try to finish your child’s sentences for them. Be patient and allow them to get their entire thought out. Before responding, wait for a natural pause.

Practice reflection

When the conversation is over, take a few moments to reflect upon what you discussed. If there was something you forgot to ask about, or delve deeper into, make a mental note to follow up. If you have difficulty remembering, write things down in a journal to refer to later.

Following up

When you really listen to your child, you will gain helpful information that will lead to productive action. If your child talked about homework struggles, follow through by helping them on the next assignment. If they had questions you didn’t have the answers to, look them up and then share the results with your child.

If we forget to follow up, our children may feel like we really weren’t listening to them. Following up shows our kids that they are understood and that we are there to support them.

Final Thoughts

Listening is a skill that we get better at the more we practice. When we are truly focused on what our children are saying, we can discover ways to improve our relationships and make meaningful connections. The current generation of parents will be challenged by intrusive technologies and will have to adapt by decreasing distractions. We can show up for our children by actively listening and empathizing with them. By following through, we will continue to be a force for good in their lives. Remember, listening is your superpower!

  • Cuncic, A. (2022, November 9). How to Practice Active Listening. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-active-listening-3024343
  • Raising children. (2017, June 5). Nonverbal communication: body language and tone of voice. Raising Children Network. https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/connecting-communicating/communicating/nonverbal-communication

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