Parents often complain that their kids don’t listen to them. “Jeremy tunes out the minute I start talking and I know I’m coming across like the teacher in the old Peanuts cartoons!” “I have to repeat myself at least three times to get my daughter to hear me!” This is because we spend a lot of our day giving orders or telling our kids how to respond to things instead of asking them how they feel and then listening closely and without bias to their response. Your first thought might be that you just don’t have time, or don’t honestly want their opinion. Or, sometimes it makes us feel so uncomfortable when our kids are feeling stressed or unhappy that we don’t want to know the details, and hope the issues will blow over on their own. However, one of the most important factors in building a strong, life-long bond with your child is to master the art of active listening.
Active listening is a term used by many experts to define a way of listening in which you make a conscious effort to devote your attention to the other person and restate or paraphrase what you heard to make sure you understood it. It’s a non-judgmental way of promoting conversation by accepting your child’s point of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. By utilizing this technique, parents’ role model a positive way to pay complete attention and discuss a situation with their child in a calm manner, therefore teaching them how to do the same.
Many specialists believe that this is the best way to get kids to vent and then come to their own conclusions about how to solve a particular problem. It builds self-esteem to know that the parent respects them, and teaches problem-solving skills. An example of active listening that comes up in daily conversation in most homes would go something like this: Your child comes home and says she hates her teacher! Some of us might respond with something like “You have to go to school like everyone else and everyone has a bad teacher once in a while, so deal with it!” or “I’ll go to the principal tomorrow to have you switched out”. Instead, an active listener would say something like “It sounds like you are really angry at your teacher. You expect her to pay attention to your needs and to get the other kids under control, but she just isn’t doing it. It’s frustrating but do you think there are things you can do to make it better?” This way you don’t belittle the problem or solve it for them. You may not get the result that you had in mind right away, but once the child has time to let all her negative feelings out, she might come up with some solutions that make her feel more empowered and happier.
Engaging in this kind of interaction creates a supportive bond so that your child will feel comfortable coming to you with her problems. To learn more successful parenting pointers, it’s always helpful for even the most seasoned parents to learn new skills with the help of reading material, online parenting classes or traditional in-person group classes. The energy and time you put into your children will reward you for a lifetime.