In the course of my work with parents, I often get asked the question “what is the single best piece of parenting advice that you would give to parents?” And without a doubt, my response would be to listen to your children.
It might sound simple, but more and more parents are struggling or at least find it challenging to listen to their children effectively.
Active listening is more than just hearing and responding to what your child is saying - it requires mental, physical, and honest involvement.
Below are four tips on how you can become an effective listener.
Give them your undivided attention
You need to be 100% available and in a calm state of mind when listening to your child. Try moving your conversation to a quiet place, or if the situation doesn't allow it, take your child aside to a space that reduces your chances of being interrupted. Most importantly put your phone on silent and away - show your child that he/she has your full attention.
Focus solely on your child's needs
You might have many thoughts running through your mind and problems of your own, but you have to find a way to make it all about your child's needs at that moment. Parents can so often jump in with advice and solutions for their children's problem - disrupting the whole process.
Your child needs to be allowed to express his/her needs uninterrupted.
Learning how to express their needs and regulate their emotions on their own is critical to your child's mental, social, and emotional growth, meaning it helps them:
Develop independent thinking and problem solving
Gain emotional intelligence and in future get their own needs met without your involvement
Think about what the child is saying
It's crucial that you understand what your child is telling you. You don't need to respond immediately. Instead, allow yourself some time to think about what your child is saying - you are allowed to ask them if you can think about it for a bit. You might find that time of not responding leads to your child finding their own solution. You are also allowed to check in whether or not you understand correctly by saying: "So, what I am hearing is that you are upset about x, y, or z." Ask your child to help you understand.
Ponder what the child is not saying
In your quest to trying to understand what your child is saying, it is also essential to pay attention to what is not being said. Pay attention to your child's emotions and body language and validate these by pointing it out to them, for example: "I can see that you feel uncomfortable talking about this." It might help guide you in peeling back the layers and getting to the root cause of the problem.
All of the above are a few simple ways to help you to really listen and more importantly to fully understand your child. The most important piece of advice that I can give is not to give up hope - on some days, well many days, you will fail, but there will be many more opportunities for you to try again. Remember, throughout this whole process you are speaking a language of acceptance - just by listening - that will, in the long run, lead to an open and honest relationship with your child.
Written by Erica Strydom
Erica is an Educational Psychologist and has been working with families and children for over a decade. She is currently the Director at Home-Start South Africa, an NPO that offers emotional support and practical guidance to families with young children. She is also a certified instructor of Dr Thomas Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training. Feel free to contact her directly:
083 490 2299
Disclaimer: The information contained in this communication is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult a professional on any medical or psychological concerns. The articles and blogs are posted only as opinion or ideas, and are general in nature. The administrator takes no responsibility for any action or outcome a reader may make as a result of reading a post.