By Raising Children Network
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Talking and listening to children does lots of important things. It improves your bond with them, and encourages them to listen to you. It helps them to form relationships and to build self-esteem.

The basics

Like so many other things, talking and listening can be done badly, just OK, or really well. And like any other skills, you get better with practice.

Good communication with children is about:

  • encouraging them to talk to you – and listening so they can tell you how they feel
  • being able to really listen and responding in a sensitive way to all kinds of things – not just nice things or good news, but also anger, embarrassment, sadness or fear
  • focusing on body language and actions as well as words, and interpreting nonverbal forms of communication.
Some children need a lot of encouragement and positive feedback to get talking. Others will be desperate to talk to you when you’re busy doing something else. This might mean stopping what you’re doing and listening.

Top tips for talking and listening

  • Set aside time for talking and listening to each other.
  • Listen to your children when they want to talk, have strong feelings or have a problem.
  • Be open to talking about all kinds of feelings, including anger, joy, frustration, fear and anxiety. Talking about feeling angry is different from getting angry, though. Learning the difference is an important step for a child learning to communicate.
  • When talking to your child, try to remember how it was when you were a child and how you were generally attracted to those people who really listened to you. After all, children think differently from grown-ups. There are a lot of things they don’t know and a lot of things they don’t have the words to talk about.
  • Let your child finish talking and then respond. When listening, try not to jump in, cut your child off, or put words in your child’s mouth – even when your child says something ridiculous or wrong or is having trouble finding the words. Children appreciate this as much as grown-ups!
  • Use language that your children will understand . Sometimes we forget that children don’t ‘get’ everything.
  • Watch your child’s facial expression and body language. Listening isn’t just about hearing words, but also trying to understand what’s behind those words.
  • To let your child know you’re listening, and make sure you’ve really understood, repeat back what your child has said and make lots of eye contact.
  • Show your interest by saying such things as, ‘Tell me more about ...’,  ‘Really!’ and ‘Go on ...’. Ask children what they feel about the things they’re telling you about. 
  • Avoid criticism and blame. If you’re angry about something your children done, try and explain why you want them not to do it again. Appeal to their sense of empathy.
  • Work together to solve problems and conflicts.
  • Be honest with each other.
If you talk and listen to your children from a very young age, you’ll all get into habits that will be very useful once they’re teenagers. An open relationship – where children feel comfortable talking about what they’ve been doing and with whom – will encourage children to tell you about the details of their life when they’re older.
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  • Last Updated 20-05-2010
  • Last Reviewed 01-03-2010