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Take a moment to quiet your mind, stop what you are doing, and listen.
What do you hear?
Now listen again? What else do you hear?
Do you hear some other sounds that you didn’t notice the first time? It’s amazing what we can discover when we take the time to really listen.
- How good are your listening skills?
- How well do you listen to others?
- When was the last time you really listened to your children?
Think about how good it feels when someone really listens to you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our children felt like that every time they talked to us?
The power of listening
Listening builds strong connections between you and your child as it signals how much you value your relationship. As you listen you learn more about your children’s lives and what is important to them. It’s amazing what you can discover.
As an added bonus you also teach your children how to listen to you and that is a good thing for any parent!
To listen well you need to be present with your child. It means choosing to focus your attention on his/her words instead of thinking about the next thing on your to do list.
It means putting aside your phone and other digital distractions. It may sound obvious, but listening means not talking. Let them finish without interrupting what they are saying. Even if it seems that they are rambling. Let them find the words even if they are struggling.
I know this can be really hard at times, but zipper your lips and open your ears! If necessary pretend you have duct tape over your mouth.
Listening to younger kids
Younger children are usually very willing to talk. They will happily chat to you anytime you are together. While that can be exhausting at times take full advantage of their willingness to tell you EVERYTHING.
There will come a time when they are not so forthcoming, so take the opportunity to establish good communication habits now. If you find that you are not having as much talking time as you would like, try playing with your child. You can hear all kinds of wonderful things as you build Lego together, or play with dolls.
Listening to older kids and teens
It can get trickier with older children and teens. Be aware that as they grow up your children will begin to cherish their privacy and will resent anything that seems intrusive.
Find a way to send the message that you are willing to listen any time they signal a desire to talk. This is particularly important with teens. They need to know that you are always be available, even in the wee hours of the morning, because that might be the time they want to talk about their sexuality, or significant relationships.
This can be hard, especially if you have to go to work the next day, but you don’t want your teens going elsewhere to get their emotional needs met. So put on some coffee and listen.
Listen without jumping to conclusions or offering your opinion too quickly.
Take advantage of times you are together
Another thing you can do is to take advantage of times you are together. Riding in the car together or doing dishes while your teens are grabbing a snack will often provide openings for conversation.
Don’t take it personally if your older child seems a little reticent to talk at times. Remember that they are in the process of becoming independent adults and it is normal for them to draw back from you.
If your child knows that they can come to you about anything and you will listen (not interrupt, pass judgment, or lecture), they will come to you when they need to talk.
A few helpful things you can do to encourage your children to talk to you
Watch out for conversation openers that older children offer and be prepared to drop everything to respond.
Take the time to hang out with your children. Let the conversation flow naturally and don’t force it. I found that I often had to spend a lot of time joking around with my sons before they would start talking about anything significant.
Build special times with each child into your routine. Perhaps you have a regular talking time with younger children as you tuck them into bed.
Maybe you will share a hot drink with an older child or shoot hoops with your teen after supper each night. You might catch up with each other while driving them to activities. Children often wait for those routine times to bring up something that’s bothering them.
How well do you know your children?
If you want to know how well you are listening to your children, take a moment to think about how well you know them. What do you know about your child’s life, about their likes, dislikes, thoughts, and opinions? You might want to ask yourself questions like
- Who is my child’s favorite teacher? Why?
- Who is your child’s best friend?
- What is this friend like?
- Who does your child admire most? Why?
- Who is your child’s favorite music group?
- What kind of music do they like?
- What are they reading?
- What is the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said (or done) to your child?
- Does your child struggle with any particular fears? What are they?
- What are your child’s dreams and hopes?
- What are they passionate about?
- What’s going on in the world that upsets them?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it could be that need to spend some extra time with your child. Set aside some time to REALLY LISTEN. Turn off your phone. Let them talk. Resist the urge jump in with your own thoughts. Let the conversation unfold naturally. Just listen. Try it and see.
If you have any comments I would love to hear from you. If you could give one piece of advice to a new parent about listening to their child- what would it be? Let’s make a list together.
“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” Catherine Wallace