Active listening can be a powerful tool to improve communication and build a positive relationship with your teenage child.

Active listening: the basics

Actively listening to your child is more than just simply hearing her. Active listening is a skill.

You can actively listen by:

  • getting close to your child when she’s speaking
  • giving your child your full attention
  • allowing your child to talk and not interrupting her
  • avoiding questions that break your child’s train of thought
  • focusing on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you’ll say next
  • looking at your child so she know she’s being heard and understood
  • showing your child that you’re interested by nodding your head and making comments like ‘I see’, `That sounds hard/great/tricky ...’ and so on.
Listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing. You can understand and respect another person’s point of view without agreeing with it.

Benefits of active listening

An essential ingredient of strong, healthy relationships is good communication. And successful communication depends a lot on how you listen. 

By using active listening, you can strengthen your communication and improve your relationship with your child. This is because active listening shows your child that you care and are interested. It can also help you learn and understand more about what’s going on in your child’s life.

With active listening, you don’t have to talk too much. It can take the pressure off you to come up with answers and solve problems. Active listening can make it more likely that your child will seek your views.

Talking to you is 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 active listening skills

Get into the here and now
This means really paying attention. If you notice your mind has wandered, bring it back to what your child is saying.

When your child is talking to you, it can help to turn off the TV, your mobile phone and other devices. If you give your child your undivided interest and attention, it sends the message that your child is the most important thing to you right now. It says that you’re available and interested in what she’s thinking, feeling and doing. 

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, `Let me see if I’ve understood. 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 judgments in your summary. For example:

  • It’s judgmental to say – ‘You want to stay out too late’.
  • It’s nonjudgmental to say – ‘You want to stay out until midnight’.

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 your child feels heard. This can encourage him to explain further or say more about 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.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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