Listening To Our Kids
How well do you listen to your kids? Many parents would pat themselves on the back when it comes to keeping communication flowing between themselves and their children. But the statistics are surprising: researchers in one study determined that dads spend as few as eight minutes a day during the week conversing with their kids, and moms who work outside the home spend fewer than 11 minutes a day. Even the average stay-at-home mom can’t afford to be smug, because she is statistically only spending 30 minutes each day really listening and talking with her kids.
Communication is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship with your family. It’s never too early (or too late) to start practicing great communication and conversation habits with your kids. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Set aside some specific time in your day to chat with each of your kids. Dinner can be a great opportunity for family conversation, but it doesn’t always pan out. Take a few minutes first thing in the morning and have a real conversation with each of your children individually. Or do it right before bed, or call on your lunch break.
Teach your children through modelling how to be a good conversationalist. Don’t interrupt, listen attentively when your child talks, make eye contact, turn your body toward the speaker, show enthusiasm in your body language and facial expressions, really listen when he talks instead of just waiting for your turn to share your own thoughts.
Why questions generally put people on the defensive. Show interest and gather information by asking as few questions as possible that start with why, and instead ask how and what questions if you can. (“How did you decide to do that?” or “What were you thinking/feeling when you said/did that?” are some examples of questions that will probably generate a more favourable response.)
Be patient and let your children come to you in their own time. Be available and be around in order to give them the opportunity to start a conversation under their own steam…and when they do, put down the dishes or turn off the computer, and show them that you are really listening.
Don’t give trite answers. Nothing bugs a kid more than a pat or distracted answer when they’re trying to share important information. You’ll miss your chance and that window will slam shut.
Don’t hesitate to talk about yourself a bit, too. If you let your child know a bit about something that’s happened in your day, it shows that you care enough about her to include her in what is meaningful to you. Ask for an opinion.
Listen for the point of the story, and don’t worry about always correcting grammar or mispronunciations. If you focus too much on the surface stuff all the time, it sends the message that you’re not really listening to what’s being said. Learn when to offer corrections, and when to just go with the flow.
This is the kind of parenting strategy that takes practice. You can’t expect to learn any new skill without practice, and listening to your kids can be like training for a sport: you have to keep going, keep trying, even when you don’t get the results you expect, because eventually your hard work will pay off.
Want to read more about communication and how to listen? Check out these articles:
Most Of Us Hear, Not All Of Us Listen when we’re communicating.
A Listening Experiment, to see just how much listening you’re actually doing!
And finally, some ideas on Resolving Conflict.