As a parent, you are your children’s first audience. You are their safe space, their cheerleader, and their confidant. Through chats with you, they will hone their conversational skills to perfection (or not).
Most parents hope their children will be able to confide in them throughout their lives. From their teenage friendship dramas and heartbreaks to their future work stresses, you want your children to know they can turn to you for a friendly ear. To achieve this, you need to set the groundwork now.
Listening to your child is important
Listening to your child is important because it improves your relationship and teaches your child that what he or she has to say holds value. Conversely, parents who do not listen to their children send a clear (but often unintentional) message that they are not interested in what their children are saying.
Listening to your child now is an essential foundation for those who wish to hear about problems in the future. Every child deserves to be heard. Children process their days by thinking about and retelling their experiences. As a good listener, you can help your children work through their feelings about their experiences.
Being a good listener can strengthen your bond with your children. As a good listener, you will hold space for them to air their problems without trying to solve them. One of our jobs as parents is to facilitate our children’s solutions to their own problems.
Why do parents not listen to their child
There can be many reasons why parents do not listen to their child, and it’s unlikely they are intentional. Nobody sets out to ignore their child, but sadly, many parents are doing just that without even realizing. Here are some reasons why you might not listen to your children:
You are focusing on something else
Kids aren’t great at picking their moments. Parents sometimes find it easier to try to (or pretend to) listen rather than explain they don’t have the time to listen right at that moment. This leads to a child blurting out news to a disengaged parent who isn’t following the conversation. It’s much better to explain you’re busy and then suggest a better time for your child to tell you. A younger child might be unable to wait, but as children grow, their patience grows, too.
There are too many people talking at once
If you have more than one child, the after school catch-up can feel like chaos. Everybody wants to tell you about the day – and tell you right now. Your children might talk over each other in the rush to be the first to share their news. Try to teach your children to wait their turn to speak, so that everybody gets your full attention. This will take time, especially with younger children.
You are on your phone
Smartphones have done a lot to improve our lives, but they haven’t been great for our attention spans. So many of us pick our phones up on autopilot, even while our kids are halfway through a story. You might not even notice you’re doing it, but your child will.
It could help to designate phone-free time, so you can give your children your full attention. Without this, you might not even hear children when they try to get your attention because you are completely focused on your phone.
You aren’t really listening to them
You can hear what people say without really listening to them. If you find yourself correcting your kids when they tell you what happened or how they feel, you might not be listening to them properly. Try to keep in mind that you and your children are different people. Accepting their emotions and experiences, even when they are hard to hear, will help them to feel genuinely heard.
Effects of not listening to your child
Your child’s life isn’t going to be ruined because you didn’t give your full attention on one occasion; repeatedly failing to listen to your child, though, could have an impact. Each time you fail to listen, you send the message that your children are not a priority or that you are not interested in what they have to say. This could affect your relationship with them, and they will stop coming to you when they want to talk.
On a deeper level, repeatedly showing your kids that you are not interested in what they have to say could affect their self-esteem. If your children don’t have anybody in their life who consistently values what they have to say, they might start to feel they are not important or that what they say holds no value.
How to improve your listening skills
It’s never too late to improve your skills and become a better listener. Good listening skills will serve you in all areas of your life, especially in your relationships. Keep reading to learn what steps you can take to become a better listener to your children.
1. Make time to listen
If you don’t have time to listen immediately, that’s ok. Explain that you are busy right now but will be available soon. Give them a better time when you’ll be able to listen properly. It’s ok for children to see that life is about balancing priorities and to learn that waiting will get them your full attention.
When you do have time, clear away all distractions. Leave your phone out of reach so you cannot absent-mindedly pick it up halfway through the conversation. Do not get on with chores while you are talking. Instead, focus on what your child has to say.
If you are in the middle of cooking dinner when your child comes to talk to you, turn away from the stove, so your child knows you are listening. Eye contact is important for human connection, and it is perhaps something we don’t do often enough with our children. Maintain eye contact throughout your conversation.
2. Show your child you are listening
Listening is not a performance, yet your child needs to see that you are listening. You can do simple things to show your child you are hearing and listening. These things will also help you listen more easily because you will focus intently on your child.
How to show a child you are listening
To show you are hearing your child, you should:
- Stop what you are doing and remove other distractions
- Turn to face your child
- Make eye contact
- Wait until the child has finished speaking before you respond
- Reflect back to your child what you have heard.
You don’t always need to talk. Without using words, you can show your children you are there for them. Sit with them, hold them and give them space to talk. Sometimes, all children need is our undivided attention to help them feel better.
3. Let your child hear you are listening
If you’ve ever found yourself guessing the proper reaction to something your child has just said, you might benefit from developing some active listening skills. Many parents fall into the trap of pretending to listen by mimicking active listening techniques without actually listening. Spoiler alert: you can’t actively listen if you’re not really listening.
Active listening for parents
Active listening isn’t about repeating odd words or phrases you hear your children mutter; it is about repeating the meaning of their words back to them. For example, if your child is telling you a story about a fall-out at school, you might say, ‘It sounds like you’re mad because they wouldn’t let you play’.
Active listening shows you are really hearing what your children have said, but it also encourages them to keep talking because you are keeping the conversation going.
4. Use your new listening skills at every opportunity
Active listening skills aren’t just for meaty problems; they are fantastic to fall back on during every conversation. For example, during sibling fallouts, active listening skills will ensure both children feel heard and soothed, while helping them sort out their own problems.
With young children, reflective listening skills can help them develop their language skills. You can repeat what they say back to them with additional information, so they improve their vocabulary and conversational skills.
When your children are acting out, active listening skills will help you listen respectfully to them, even when you’re feeling mad. While you might be annoyed about your children’s behavior, it’s always important to let them explain what happened, and why, before you jump to conclusions.
Without this skill, you will likely end up lecturing your kids, and they probably won’t listen to what you say. Likewise, they won’t listen to you if you don’t listen to them.
Active listening can help your children develop their emotional awareness. They might not always have the words to describe how they are feeling, but you can help them figure it out by adding in emotions and feelings when you reflect their words back to them.
5. Don’t give up
At first, active listening might feel clunky and unnatural, especially if you’re not used to repeating what people say. Many of us are used to trying to solve people’s problems for them rather than to listen actively. Keep practicing active listening with your children, and this skill will soon feel natural.
Active listening is about holding space for the other person to talk. As parents, it’s easy to fall into the trap of telling your children how they should feel or telling them they must have interpreted something wrongly; this will only frustrate a child. Instead, putting in the time and effort to listen will help you get to know your children and improve your long-term relationship with them.