Parenting Skills: How to Listen to Your Kids

When someone is listened to, that person feels accepted and understood. When you listen to your child, you strengthen their sense of belonging in the family and the bond you have between the two of you. While it seems like such a simple action, the act of listening has so many benefits. Think about it, it is often the first complaint you will hear from a teenager if they are having a hard time with their relationship with their parents. “My dad never listens to me.” or “My mom was too busy to talk, so I didn’t tell her.” Makes you wonder what your child may have said if you had just slowed down enough, doesn’t it? That is the main reason you want to learn how to be a good listener as a parent, you want your kids to know you are there for them. One other reason, which goes hand in hand with the main reason, is that your children will learn to be a good listener as well as they see you model the behavior. My teenagers will ignore me like most teens do to their parents, until I say, “I need to tell you something.” After they hear that sentence, they stop what they are doing and look at me, waiting to hear what I am going to say. It is a good habit to have. It is the same way I have reacted to them when they say those words, and I started as soon as they could speak.

A Good Listening Habit Active listening, explained on my Parenting Teens site here, is a good habit to get into, but not always the answer when you are listening to your kids. Part of the reason is that it requires parents to reflect back to their children what they think they heard the child say. This can make your child frustrated, especially because parents can get too worried about reflecting back the child’s feelings instead of just understanding that the child just wants to be heard. Here are the steps to take to form a good listening habit and add it to your parenting skills:
  1. When your child says, “I have something to tell you”, stop what you are doing.
  2. Give your child your undivided attention and look at them.
  3. Let them tell you what they want – in full. Do not interrupt.
  4. If they are asking for something, let them know that you appreciate them asking and you will think about it. Give them an answer after you have.

If they are telling you something that makes you emotional, tell them that you will need some time to process the information. You can talk more again later. Then follow through by talking later. If they are telling you about something that they are trying to process, like why their best friend didn’t talk to them that day or why they shouldn’t have to eat peas, use your active listen skills and reflect back. Using the peas example, you may say something like, “You sound frustrated about the eating your vegetable rule when we have peas because you don’t like them.” Your child will appreciate that you understand their feelings behind the peas, even if they still have to follow the rule. Or maybe you can work out a compromise 😉 What if you can’t stop what you are doing? For instance, you are changing the baby’s diaper and the oldest child wants your attention. Obviously, you can’t just turn away from the baby! So, you should let your oldest child know when they can have your full attention. And say it just like that: “I have to finish changing the baby and then I can give you my full attention because I want to hear what you have to tell me.”

Opportunities to Listen to Kids There are times during the day, week or month that I call ‘opportunities to listen’. I’m sure you know about them, you just haven’t thought of these times in that way. Like when you are in the car with your kids – a perfect example of an opportunity to listen! Asking open ended questions at these times is a beneficial practice for parents as you get to enjoy hearing what your kids have to say, answers to question you may not have thought to ask and insight to what your kids are thinking. Like those times, there are also times where your child will be too tired or too into their world to want to talk even though you are ready to listen and use your sharp parenting skills! This happens more frequently when your child hits the preteen years, but it can be at any age. At those times, as long as you don’t need pertinent information, it is best to allow your child their peace and wait for a better opportunity. Listening, whether active or just giving your child attention – is a parenting skill that needs to be practiced. But the one good thing about that is that you reap the benefits as you learn.

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