Are You Listening? How to Really Listen to Your Kids


Are You Listening? How to really listen to your kids

Are You Listening?

We all do it from time to time (okay, maybe everyday). We stop listening to our kids. Sure, we might hear what they are saying and we give feedback like, “uh-huh,” and “really?” But are we truly listening? The answer is sometimes, no.

Active listening is an important tool in our parenting belts. Active listening is the art of being truly present with the person who is sharing, reflecting back┬áto them their thoughts or feelings and, occasionally, helping them when they need help or suggestions. The thing is, active listening, for a lot of people, is hard work. Especially for parents who are running from one task to the next -doctor appointments, dishes, phone calls, games with the kids, comforting boo-boo’s and so on – active listening can sound like one more task that is going to take a lot of time from an already crammed schedule.

The thing is, active listening can actually solve a lot of those chaos problems. When people feel heard -including our kids- they get so filled up that they need less of our undivided attention. It gives them security and this leads to some really awesome independence.

If you can relate to this, here are some quick steps you can take (with kids, friends, family…..your partner….) toward active listening:

Stop what you are doing or finish up – this just means, give the speaker your undivided attention. If you need to finish a task (much like finishing up this sentence before helping Kaiya get out some paints) tell your child that you hear her and that you will be will her after you finish your short task. Then follow through. I have struggled with this at times -remembering to return to the conversation- so if that happens to you just try again!

Listen for the issue -kids (mine, anyway) have a tendency to be long-winded. We (me, anyway) have a tendency to try to talk them to the issue at hand before they get there themselves. Sound familiar? Well, this usually backfires and then they have to start over, right? Just listen for what they are trying to communicate. Does he need something? Hungry? Tired? Sad? And then repeat this back to them. Here’s a script that’s easy to use, “I think you are saying that you are upset that your brother has a toy that you want and since he has it you are sad that you can’t have it right now.” This kind of reflection goes over so well with kids (um, really, people in general). No one is used to having their thoughts and feelings reflected to them like that. It takes some getting used to but once you see, and feel, the benefits, it gets much easier.

See if they need some help -most of the time, kids just need to feel like you really get them…they need to feel heard. Don’t we all? Sometimes they are going to need a little follow-up; some tips, suggestions or just talking things through.

It’s really amazing to watch the reflection step from above just work its magic. I’ve had kids go, “yup, that’s what I’m feeling,” and just walk away. They just needed someone to acknowledge them and then they already knew what they were going to do about it, you know? Like Jacob, my 9 year old, has a toy that Kaiya really wanted…she knows she has to wait but first she just needed me to say, “that’s really tough, waiting, isn’t it?”

Sometimes you’re going to need to make some suggestions. I like to do this in questions because kids can feel like they own the solution, they came up with it themselves!

For instance, Jacob has a car that Kaiya really wants and she’s feeling sad about waiting because it feels like it could take forever before he’s done playing. We’ve listened intently and reflected her feelings but she isn’t moving on; she didn’t have a plan and needs some help solving her problem. I would ask her questions like, “what could you do while you’re waiting?” or “could you talk to Jacob about when he might be done?” or just, “hmmmm, what are going to do about that?”

It’s really amazing to watch kids solve these problems. Keep in mind that their solution may not be the one you would have picked. But they are more likely to remember it and use it again in the future because it’s theirs. Self-regulation starts so early!

Using these easy steps, you can help your child feel valued, worthy and heard. A great benefit to active listening is the self-control and problem-solving skills that kids learn as they are supported by a caring adult. I’ve heard this process totally change preschool classrooms when the teachers started using active listening skills. That’s truly amazing because they have so many kids you might think -how do they have time to listen to them all so intentionally? Like I said earlier, a huge benefit to listening actively is that kids gain an independence knowing that when they really need you to listen, you’ll be there with undivided attention.

How has active listening worked for you? I would love to hear your own tips and success stories in the comments. Share with everyone how you remind yourself to be fully connected with your child!


Image Courtesy of ky_olsen on Flickr

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