How to show your child you are really listening

Jun 2013
How to show your child you are really listening
Active listening is an approach which enables you to absorb the complete message your child is trying to tell you

We are often told it is important to listen to our children and for them to know we understand their thoughts and value what they have to say. But how often do we think we have listened and then realise afterwards we didn't really take it in? Similarly, we can sometimes think we did a great job of listening but our children may still feel we didn't dedicate enough attention to the issue, or respond in the way they would have hoped.

This may sometimes be because we are passively listening to their thoughts and concerns, rather than dedicating time and effort to actively listening. Though it may not be possible to be an active listener all the time, there are times when having and executing such skills could be very fruitful.

So what is active listening all about?
Rather than just listening for content, hearing what we want to hear and having a basic understanding of the point they are trying to get across, active listening is an approach which enables us to absorb the complete message. In addition to listening to the content of the conversation, this approach involves being aware of how the words are being said and the body language of the communicator.

Taking the time to be an active listener can help build trust with your child, and shows them that you value and understand what they have to say. Like developing any skill, becoming an active listener comes with practice until you start to do so naturally. Here are some tips for developing this skill:

Be mindful of your body language
Children absorb not only what we are saying but how we say it. This goes for listening too. Communicate with your whole body, so your child can visually see they are the focus of your attention. Dropping down to their level, facing them straight-on and holding eye contact are all physical ways to show you are listening. The occasional nod at the relevant time will also help to reinforce this.

Listen carefully and in full
If you think you can predict what your child is going to say, it is easy to switch off. Ensure you listen carefully not just to the words, but also to the voice inflection and the way they are saying it. Listen to everything they have to say rather than drawing a conclusion and communicating your response half way through.

Repeat the message back to them
A great way to show your child that you understood what they expressed is repeating the message back to them. This might start with "So, I understand that you think…" or "Am I right in understanding that..?" If you haven't understood correctly this may cause annoyance at first, but is better than you taking action on misunderstood information.

Give thanks and respect for their opinions
Your child is likely to evaluate how the interaction went afterwards, and if you have been a successful active listener and shown respect for their thoughts, they are more likely to come to you again in the future with worries or questions. Taking the time to say thank you and praising your child for being mature or curious can also be very powerful to boost their confidence and encourage further interaction.