Really Listening to Your Child

Mother listening to child

“Just a minute.”

How many times a day do I put my children off? I’ve become more aware lately as I push and drag myself into parenting consciousness.

I adore my children. I want to know all about them. As I saw them acting out my failings on me, I realized that love wasn’t the message I was sending.


Listening Is Love

Listening is love, loving not just the idea of our child but the unique, quirky individual they are and the grown person they are becoming. They have thoughts and ideas that can surprise us as parents. The question is whether we are willing to hear them.

Are you interested in your child? Are you engaged?

When you listen to learn about your child, listen for the meaning in what your child says, you not only learn more about this person you love but you build a foundation. This foundation will help as they go through the emotional ups and downs of growing up, and it will help as they learn to be good listeners in their other relationships.


Ready to Listen

My children and I have been talking lately about being ready both as listener and as speaker. The listener needs to focus, and the speaker needs to be sure they have a listener. As my children get older, we establish rules of conversation together.

I find myself frustrated by frequent interruptions and having to start the same idea over and over again. To make sure that listening and respect goes both ways, I have been working with my children to recognize whether people are ready to listen and to save up their questions to perhaps just one per minute rather than 5 per minute. If I am in the middle of a phone call, they wait unless it is an emergency. If I am in the middle of typing a sentence, they wait until I have finished. When reading, we ask, “Let me finish this paragraph.” When knitting, “Let me finish this row.”

And, I need to give them the same respect. I remind myself that I can’t interrupt just because I’m the parent and I think I’m very important.

In our new rules of conversation, once the speaker has a listener, the listener puts down what she is doing, muting any sound, and we look at one another. We look one another in the eyes. It does wonders!

That’s when the listening begins.


Open Listening

Keep yourself open to your child, and your child is more likely to continue expressing himself openly.

Don’t interrupt to express your own thoughts. Don’t interrupt your own listening to form a response, either. Hold on to your thoughts without letting yourself become the center of your own attention.

It’s tough for an excited, young child to hold on in his own words. When my son interrupts, I find myself saying, “When you interrupt, I think you aren’t listening.” I know he is listening in the way he knows how, so I try to help him find a way to hold on to his thoughts so he can share at an appropriate point in conversation.

Even with this in mind, I have to coach myself to listen patiently, not to interrupt my children. It takes a conscious effort to slow down my listening, empty myself of speeches, and just hear my child.

While you are listening, keep your attention on the other person so you really hear what is being said. Focus with openness.


The Conversation Starts

Following the quiet listening comes responding and confirming.

Confirm. Are you sure you heard correctly? Are you sure you understood what your child said? Confirm not only as a way to be sure that you heard what you think you heard but to review and remember.

Question. Do you want to know more? Ask open questions that will extend the conversation: “Can you describe that?” or “And what did you think?”

Identify. It might also help your child to identify emotions if you ask questions about how they are or were feeling. “It sounds like you were upset about that.” Maybe you get a confirmation, or maybe you start a conversation that draws your child out to articulate her own feelings and thoughts.
Clarify. Your child might be able clarify the experience as a whole when given an opportunity to explore feelings and meanings.

In families where true listening is going on, children believe that what they have to say is important. That leads to more empowered and resilient children. Children begin to trust themselves more and have a better understanding about who they are.

Reading

  • Lisa Burman, “Are You Listening?: Fostering Conversations That Help Young Children Learn.” Though focused on listening to young children in the classroom, this book can be quite helpful to parents as well.
  • Wendy, The Creative Relationship Coach, “How to Really Listen to Your Child, Your Spouse or Anyone.” The therapist quoted above also shared a moving experience of half-listening to her son. She didn’t slow down and focus until her son broke down.

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Throughout March we will offer getting started guides. This is a week of Letting Go of Old Habits.