Do your kids start to tell you something about their day and then quickly stop and clam up? Do they say things like, “You don’t understand me!” or “You never LISTEN to me!“? Or, maybe you just always seem to be on different wavelengths when you’re talking?
I’ve gathered up 7 expert tips today that will help show you how to listen to your kids so they FEEL heard. These strategies will get them talking more, and are guaranteed to bring you closer – no matter what age your kids are!
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1. MIMIC Your Child
If they are down on the floor – you get on the floor too. If they are sitting on the couch – you sit beside them. If they are leaning against the table – you do the same. If you are 6 feet tall and they are 3, kneel down.
These are all easy ways to get “on the same level” as your child which helps them feel like you are “social equals” (a mutually respectful state which allows for easier flow of conversations).
If you want to go even further, mimic your child’s body postures (subtly so they don’t think you are mocking them) – which also sends them a signal that you are on their wavelength.
The only posture to avoid is crossing your arms. Try and keep your arms relaxed at your side which communicates that you are “open” to listening.
2. Eliminate Distractions
I know, I know – lots of us moms (and dads!) are multi-tasking queens (and kings) and can listen effectively to our kids while texting, or watching the news. But to THEM, it doesn’t appear that way.
If we want our kids to FEEL like we are really listening, our eyes should be on them and we should try to give them the FULL attention they crave.
Another important way to show our kids we are listening, is resisting the impulse to interrupt or try to finish their sentences.
I know I’ve been guilty of this one. You know the scene – when your child is struggling to find a word and you fill it in for them. Or you’re in a rush, and your child is hell-bent on telling someone a long-winded story, so you finish it for them quickly.
Being patient enough to really listen…quietly…goes a long way towards showing our kids that we value what they think and have to say (no matter how long it may take for them to get it out!)
4. SSSLLLOOOOOOWW DOWN!
Part of this strategy is realizing that it can take up to 10 seconds for some young children (toddlers/preschoolers) and deep thinkers to respond to questions. Yes – 10 whole seconds!!!
Once I learned this, I tested it out on my son, Onetime. Sure enough, I found there were many times when I got a reply to a question after waiting 8, 9 or 10 seconds.
For a while, I even got into the habit of counting to 10 silently in my head. I think it really paid off. He got the time to think and process what he was going to say, and I got to hear more of what he was thinking!
If I hadn’t waited, I would have missed out on hearing so many of his great ideas.
5. Use Simple “GO” Signals
Sometimes, just using a few words can make a big difference to how your child feels you are listening.
In Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, (and yes, I thriftily borrowed part of their title for my title today!) – they recommend just saying an encouraging, “Oh” or “I see” or “Um-hum” when responding to kids who are telling you something.
For example, Jennifer hops into the car when you pick her up from school and she says, “I hate Katy!” (previously her best friend).
Dad replies with a concerned sounding, “Oh,” and waits.
Jennifer realizes she’s got Dad’s full attention, and so she continues to tell him all about the conflict that happened today and why she’s so upset. “Thanks for listening Dad! I feel much better,” is how this conversation ends and Dad has a much better insight into his daughter’s life!
I call these words/phrases “GO” signals because they communicate to the child that they have your full attention, and that you’re not going to interrupt or jump in and take over the conversation. Combine them with #1 and #2 and you’re good to GO (sorry – couldn’t resist)!
6. Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
Have you ever had the feeling when you’re talking to someone that they haven’t really heard what you’re saying?
You say something, and then their comment is completely unrelated, so you try saying the same thing again – maybe in different words (didn’t they hear you?), and they again make a totally different or unrelated point.
Kids often feel this way too unless we reflect back our understanding of what they have said. The best way to do this is to paraphrase what we have heard them say in our own words.
An easy way to do this is to say, “It sounds like you are…(and summarize what they’ve told you in your own words.)” or “What I hear you saying is...”
It’s icing on the cake to ask, “Is that right?” when you’re done paraphrasing.
For example: “It sounds like you are upset about how your teacher centred you out today. Is that right?” or “What I hear you saying is that you really don’t want to take swimming lessons anymore. Is that right?”
7. Look Beneath the Words for FEELINGS
Just the other day I used this strategy, when my 3 year old son Onetime announced rather testily, “I want you to get out of the house, Mommy!” with an angry face.
The bottom right picture below from another post perfectly captures his expression! Just had to include it…It’s his “I’m totally P.O.’ed!” look.
To which he replied again, “I want you to leave, Mommy. Get out!”
To which I replied even more angrily, “Honey, I’m not leaving.”
Then it clicked.
I was focusing on his words instead of his feelings.
Instead of trying to defend that this was my house and that I had every right to be here – I could have been addressing the real problem – the fact that he was angry at me.
So, I took a deep breath, did a mental rewind, and finally said, “Wow – you seem really angry right now.”
His response, “Um-hum.”
“Did I do something that upset you? Can you tell me what it was?”
And out came a story about how he didn’t want me to drive us home for lunch because he wanted to go OUT for lunch today, and he didn’t want to eat what we had at home.
I listened to a whole slurry of unintended slights that had upset him.
As I listened, I could see the anger dissipating and his body becoming soft and relaxed, instead of fists clenched in anger.
It was like all the gas leaked out of the anger tank, and the engine went off! (And I didn’t have to leave the house!!!)
Just the process of labelling and acknowledging those irritations, frustrations, feelings of sadness, disappointment, and anger – helps kids to let them go.
According to Dan Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, research has shown that just the action of labelling your child’s negative feelings helps to calm the emotional part of the brain. Isn’t that cool!?
I hope you find these 7 strategies for how to listen effectively to your kids helpful! I have used them as a teacher, with my son, and definitely with my husband! Some are easy and some take practice, but the payoff is always a closer relationship.
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Thanks for joining us this week. I hope to see you back next Saturday when we talk about the role of Parental Modelling. You can find all our series posts on the Positive Parenting Page.