Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The people who listen to us, are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.— Karl Menninger
When we listen effectively, we can be mindful of what needs our focus, and what doesn’t. When we take the time to listen, it makes our loved ones feel appreciated, interesting and worthy. This raised level of communication awareness, brings about greater intimacy and builds self-esteem within the family. Everyday conversations then manifest on a deeper level, as do our relationships. When we really listen, we foster the skill in others. By acting as a model for effective and positive communication, we are raising our children to be better listeners too.
So how can we, as parents develop our listening skills?
Effective listening is an art cultivated by constant practice. There is no instant top 10 tip solution. However, here are some ideas that will help you cultivate better listening habits:
Effective listening tips
- Be as honest and open as you can, about all things in your home. This encourages an open household where anything can be discussed; including sexual, unpleasant, hurtful or sad things. That way, your child will feel she can confide in you, and will know that anything can be discussed and that you will be fair.
- Relax while you are listening, it shouldn’t feel like hard work. Once you start thinking that you are ignoring your child, or that you your should try harder to hear what he or she is saying, it becomes a chore, so forget it! Remind yourself that what you are doing is very valuable, you are making your child feel important to you, and helping them build a good self-image.
- Always acknowledge and respect your child’s words, even when you don’t agree with them.
- Sometimes a child might find it hard getting to the point, especially if they are attempting to talk about something difficult. To listen effectively, try to fine tune your attention to your child’s state of well-being. Is your child distressed, confused, embarrassed? Is her tone hesitant and soft, or angry and upset? Is she on the verge of tears, fearful or confused? When you actively listen, you pay attention to how a person says it, as well as the content of what they are saying. Listening this way, gives you a much fuller picture of what is actually going on.
- Making small verbal responses, nodding and asking appropriate questions, indicate that you are ‘paying attention’ to what is being said. This in turn, encourages your child to feel more comfortable, as well as helping create an atmosphere of honesty and openness between you. It can help to reflect or even restate what’s been said, so that your child knows you understand. Your child is then able to correct you, if you have misunderstood. Don’t overdo the questions though, as it will feel more like an interrogation.
- Even though these responses are important, listening is still the most important part. Just by being interested, supportive and open, you’re providing a space in which your child can work through their feelings. Listening involves being attentive to what your child is saying, and not just waiting until they finish, so you can jump in with your solution.
- Never interrupt your child mid-sentence and always ensure you pause and consider, before answering or commenting.
- Remember your body language is as an important part of your communication too. Look at your child as they speak, and turn your body towards them. Don’t cross your arms or legs, as this can suggest judgement or ambivalence. Remember too, that your facial expressions are able to convey empathy and connection with your child.
- Empathy means being able to imagine yourself in the shoes of the another, to understand what they are experiencing, even if you haven’t experienced this directly yourself. Be careful not to judge those who feel differently from you. At the same time, remember that it is their experience, not yours, so be careful not to ‘over-identify’. Your child’s concerns and challenges are not the same, they are not you.
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