Active listening: the basics
Actively listening to your child is more than just simply hearing him. 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 knows 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 also make it more likely that your child will ask you what you think.
Talking to you is good for your child’s thinking processes too. It can help him to think more clearly.
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 when you summarise what your child has said. 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’.
Often when you use active listening and repeat back your child’s words, it’s like an invitation to say more, because your child feels heard. It 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.