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Monday, 26 February 2018 10:56

A Parenting Guide to the Art of Listening

Listening is an invaluable skill that forms part of your child’s social, emotional and life skills. But are you listening to your child? Does your child feel as though you are listening to them?

It is very difficult to pay attention to our children sometimes; we are busy, over worked, frustrated, tired among many other things. The brutal truth is that if we are not listening then we cannot expect our children to listen.

Rather than discuss what we do wrong, this article will show three steps to improve the communication between your child and you. Let children be heard.

Here are three steps to help you really listen to your child:

  1. Children often feel that they are not heard because they cannot express themselves. If they are at a loss for words or cannot identify the feeling, emotion or experience they encountered then help them try to name it. You may need to talk about a few options before you reach the word your child is searching for. You may even introduce new words and expands your child’s vocabulary. This involves discussing what type of emotion/feeling/experience it is, for example, does the emotion relate appropriately to the situation and how does their behaviour express the emotion?
  • Emotions are part of who we are and having emotions is natural. You should be very clear in expressing that emotions are not bad or good.
  • Help your child regulate their emotions.
    • They may feel jealous but experience it too intensely or they may feel angry when the emotion is frustrated.
    • Does this emotion match the experienced I (the child) had?
  • It is the behaviour to the emotion that has consequences.
  • Children need to be able to decipher between positive behaviour and negative behaviour. Discuss whether their response was appropriate and what to do next time if the response was inappropriate.
  • Never say they were ‘bad’ but rather the behaviour was not appropriate and could hurt others. Stress how they can act to express the emotion for next time.
  1. Children can feel that you are not listening to them; your body language and behaviour is very expressive. Place yourself in their shoes if you were trying to speak to them and they were on their phone, kept interrupting you, rushing around and seemed distracted you would also feel frustarted.

"Silent" listening to hear is a behaviour that reflects that you are listening.

  • Stay silent and let them talk when they stop wait 5 seconds to see if they are finished speaking and give them time to process their thoughts.
  • Show interest in what they are saying by giving the occasional nod, facial expression (smile, frown, etc.), body action (lean towards them, sit next to them or meet them at eye level) or sound (uh-huh, ok) this shows that you are being an active listener.
  • It is important not to interrupt your child. However, if they are rambling and it is difficult to make sense of what they are saying ask them to pause. This is the time to say I do not understand what you mean so can I ask a few questions.
  • Are they responding appropriately to your feedback? If not, why? It could be they do not understand you or their has been a miscommunication. Their response to you is important, for example, if they become frustrated it means you have not understood them.
  1. So how do you make sure you have understood your child?

The answer is to "Mirror" listen: this means to share back with your child orally what they have said.

  • try not repeat exactly the same thing back but rather use different words and similar ideas to see if you have understood or if they are expressing their ideas correctly. Breakdown what they have said; help them order, sequence and structure their thoughts.
  • Mimic positive body behaviours/actions and responses.
  • Your child will value the fact that you are truly listening by reflecting on the conversation with them to ensure you have understood them.

Our ability to listen to our children is everything. Imagine how wonderful it would be that instead of not responding to our instructions or communications because they did not understand or were purely not listening that they paused and asked us to repeat what we said or asked us to explain what we expected from them – now wouldn’t that be something?