Often when we talk with our kids we are thinking more about what we want to say next than what they have on their minds. It takes patience and tolerance of some frustration to wait and hear them out completely. Yet this is the way to find out what they are thinking, feeling, intending and imagining. Then we really get to know who they are.
Tips for Effective Listening
1. Sit very still and calm as your child speaks to you.
2. Watch their body language such as facial expressions, hand movements, and eye contact as well as listening to the content.
3. Don’t interrupt with questions until the child is clearly finished.
4. Try to learn even more after they pause by simply saying, “Tell me a bit more about that.” This shows your interest without intrusion.
5. If you are concerned about what you are hearing, then you can voice some questions so you get the full picture.
6. Don’t dwell on a single detail until you understand the context.
7. Look for themes or threads in what the child is saying that may hint at an underlying problem.
8. Focus on that thread such as a low-self image so you are empathic as you engage your child futher.
9. Once you understand what the problem or worry seems to be, collaborate with your child about how to solve the situation. Don’t jump in with quick advice that may make your child defensive and back off.
10. Express praise for the way your child told you about their concern and appreciate their openness and honesty.
11. Share your thoughts slowly, one by one, so you can see reactions.
12. Eventually you can give your point of view directly offering options for how to think about the problem.
13. Then together you and your child have probably made some discoveries about the initial concern you first noticed because it may lead to a broader discussion that what was first presented.
For example, your child comes home with a worried expression on his face. You follow the steps above and learn he had a crush on a girl who ignored him. In time you learn he feels no girls would ever like him and he is drawing exaggerated conclusions about others’ feelings toward him. Now you know that his social life is what’s on his mind. In the meantime you have opened the door for future discussions and strengthened your parent-child bond. This is a grand accomplishment that will continue to be effective with future concerns.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Visit her website for more parental guidance: www.lauriehollmanphd.com.