Active listening: the basics
Active listening to your child is more than simply hearing her. You can actively listen by:
- getting close to your child when she’s speaking
- looking at your child
- allowing your child to finish and not interrupting
- avoiding questions that interrupt your child’s train of thought
- actively trying to understand what your child is saying
- concentrating hard on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you will say next
- showing your child that she’s being heard and understood
- showing her that you’re interested by nodding your head, smiling, and making comments like ‘I see’.
Listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing. You can understand another person’s point of view without agreeing with it.
Benefits of active listening
When you use active listening with your child, it shows your child that you care and are interested. In fact, it can help you learn and understand more about what’s going on in your child’s life.
Active listening can prevent blocks in communication and even make it more likely that your child will seek your views.
It’s good for your child’s thinking processes too, and can help him to clarify his thoughts.
Good listening is the best way to show your child that you’re genuinely interested and that you really care. It also helps to avoid conflict caused by misunderstandings.
Improving your listening skills
An essential ingredient of strong, healthy relationships is good communication. Successful communication depends a lot on how you listen. Here are some ideas for improving communication by improving listening skills.
Get into the here and now
This means really paying attention and not thinking about something else when your child is talking to you.
To understand why this is important, think about how it feels when you’re talking to someone and that person keeps watching the TV or texting on a mobile phone. Contrast that with how it feels to have someone’s undivided interest and attention.
Showing that you will take time out to listen lets your child know that you’re available and interested in what she has to say.
Try to understand
Concentrate on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you’re going to say next. Are you missing his point while you think about your own? What is he trying to tell you and why?
Show that you’re trying to understand
Summarise your child’s main points and how you think she might be feeling. Try repeating what your child is saying in your own words. For example, ‘You’re feeling angry because I didn’t talk to you before making plans for this weekend. I can understand that’.
Try to avoid making judgements in your summary. For example:
- Judgmental – ‘You want to stay out too late’.
- Nonjudgmental – ‘You want to stay out until midnight’.
Then invite your child to tell you more about what he’s thinking and feeling. Often when you use active listening and repeat back the speaker’s words, it acts as an invitation because the person will say more to correct you or further explain what he’s thinking.
Active listening can be a great way to stay connected with your child. You can check out our Talking to Teens interactive guide
to see how different approaches to staying connected can get different results.