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  • Writer's pictureP.E.T. South Africa

The basic principles of effective listening

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

By Heidi Malan, Director of Parent & Educational Training

Who doesn't like a good story? Storytelling has been omnipresent in all cultures, in all parts of the world, for years. We all enjoy telling stories; often, it helps us identify and make sense of our inner and outer world.

Our children also have stories to tell. When a child starts making sounds, they begin to relate and learn from stories to make sense of their world. But, while telling a story comes naturally, genuinely listening is the tricky part.

As parents, we are so naturally wired to listen and respond immediately instead of listening to understand. As a result, we tend to interrupt or completely block a child's communication flow. Our intention is to help, give facts, and solve the problem, and while these are all excellent intentions, they rob your child of a crucial moment of feeling genuinely understood. The end result is a feeling of "no one listens to me".

Next time your child tells you something, try to listen to understand and resist the urge to react. But how do we do that? Here's an example:


Child: Will the test be difficult?

Parent: Not if you studied.


Child: Will the test be difficult?

Parent: You sound worried about your test.

Child: I am; yes, I have studied hard and would like to do well.

Parents: You want to feel good about yourself.

In the first example, the parent reacts and blocks the communication process. Meaning, the child stops the cycle of exploring the emotions that might be causing this worry. In the second example, the parent opens a door into the child's inner self, allowing the child's story to proceed and identify and express their emotions.

We listen to talk rather than understand. Genuinely listening with understanding empowers the child and creates space for them to solve their own problems. It also creates a feeling of mutual respect and understanding.

The basic principles of effective listening include the following:


Just listening is often more than enough. Keeping quiet and saying nothing gives the other person space and uninterrupted time to talk about their problems, opinions, thoughts and feelings. The well-known saying: "Silence is Golden", is especially true in today's busy life. Silence gives the child the opportunity to speak calmly, reflect and make a decision.


Facial expressions and body language are a big part of communication. Eye contact and appropriate gestures such as blinking, leaning forward, smiling, frowning, and other body movements show that you are paying full attention and really hearing what the child is saying.

Door openers

Sometimes people need encouragement to keep talking, or even just to start talking. A door opener is an invitation to speak and indicates that you are willing to listen:


"Do you want to expand a little more?"

"Sounds like you have strong feelings about it."

To be able to listen to someone with understanding, you must:

  • Have time and be willing to listen.

  • Genuinely want to understand and to help.

  • Be able to focus your attention entirely on the child.

  • Trust that the child will be able to find a solution on their own.

Listening with understanding creates a space of unconditional acceptance of "I hear you", which does not necessarily mean "I agree with you."

When we listen with sincere acceptance, we can help the child find their own solution instead of relying on others. In this way, a space is created to choose our own beliefs and form our own values, respecting them even though they differ from others.

In this way, people can build relationships where everyone can strive to grow to what we are capable of, an association of mutual respect, love and peace.


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.


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