Listening is a learned skill, just like any other skill we build. You aren’t simply born with it, you have to learn and practice to be able to do it. Many of us parents and caregivers complain about our kids not being able to listen properly and respectfully to us. But first, let’s ask ourselves how do we practice and model respectful listening to our kids?
When your child is talking to you, do you-
- leave everything in hand (including cooking), go down to their level and look them in the eye while giving your full attention with a loving smile?
- ignore your ringing phone until your conversation is over?
- validate their feelings and respect their point of view, plus share your own relevant experience or give a few more facts concerning the matter to show your mutual interest?
- show that you are interested in what they’re saying by asking questions to get more details about the topic?
- follow up on this matter later on? For example, if they were talking about their love for red cars and a few days later you tell them, “I was thinking about you today when I parked my car between two red cars!”
Or do you instead-
- say “yes, yes!” while checking out your Facebook wall or chopping up the salad?
- continuously interrupt by asking an irrelevant question in the middle of the conversation, such as “Do you have any homework today?”
- leave the conversation once the phone rings without asking permission or excusing yourself for a very important call, then apologize for this interruption when you come back?
- listen inattentively, then move on to another subject without seriously commenting on anything they’ve said?
- totally forget what they’ve told you a day earlier?
Here are a few things we need to know about listening:
- Careful listening comes with respect. It is very important to teach this skill to show your kids you respect them and thus earn theirs.
- Listening requires a few senses to be active, like eye contact, hearing, thinking and sometimes a tender touch like a pat on the back or listening to your child with your arm around their shoulder.
- Listening that is accompanied by interruptions or judgments and criticism might cause fear or mistrust and in turn create a silent child who won’t talk openly with you.
- Listening is the first stage to speaking. If you have a baby or a toddler, this interaction and dialogue between you two is what builds their vocabulary and helps them express their emotions as they grow.
How to show good listening and consideration to your child:
- Ask questions to inquire about further details using what, why, how, when and where?
- Give more relevant details or facts from your own experience, such as “Do you know that I always feared that too as a child?”
- Remember enough from a previous topic and bring it up again in later conversation or when you see something your child has talked about.
Tips for being and raising a good listener:
- Monitor how you listen to your best friend when they share a story with you and compare yourself to when you listen to your child. Your child deserves the same, if not more, attention you give when listening to your dearest friends.
- Set at least 7 minutes a day of quality time with each child on their own to discuss issues that matter to them.
- Reading your child a story is the first basic step to teaching them how to listen. The earlier you start, the better.
- Family meetings help if you have big issues that need time and patience to be discussed. Consider setting aside time for a family meeting once a week when everyone can gather together and do problem solving by brainstorming different ideas and then agreeing on how to implement them.
Finally, remember that one day when you get older you will need your adult children, who will be busy parents themselves, to be able to listen carefully to you, their spouse and children too. It’s important to help them build listening skill when they’re young, because it’s much easier to build a child than fix an adult.