We all want our kids to listen to us, but how often do we really listen to them? Are we excellent models of attentive listening? Or are we teaching them how to half listen whilst otherwise distracted?
If you really want your kids to listen to you, the first step is to know how to do this yourself. Here are a few tips…
Be present. The average adult is only present for around 3% of their life. The rest of the time we are lost in remembering the past, imagining the future or off in some fantasy in our minds. On top of this we are distracted by technology, to do lists, work and personal drama. No wonder our kids haven’t learned how to listen. To really hear someone you need to be there, actively listening. The easiest way to stay present in a conversation is to focus on your breathing. If part of your awareness is on your breathing you can’t get lost in your mind. So put aside your phone, tell your mind that you will deal with everything else just now, and breathe and listen.
Paraphrase. Learn to mirror back to your child what they have said to you. Paraphrase what they’ve been talking about to show them that you are listening and to clarify that you have actually understood their message. Ask them if you’ve understood correctly and as they correct you on what you’ve misunderstood you will gain a deeper understanding of where they are at.
Be patient. We’re often too quick to jump in a finish a sentence or try to get to the heart of the matter before our kids have finished speaking. Let them ramble a bit. It may take them some time to organise their thoughts or to really get to the point of what they are getting too. They may repeat themselves or skirt around the real issue. If you interrupt or jump in with questions you may miss out on the crux of the issue by directing the conversation in a different direction.
Use all aspects of communication. Sit facing your child, look at how they are using their body (look out for facial expressions, gestures, posture), keep your body language open, listen for changes in tone, pitch and speed of their voice. Only 7% of communication is in the words that we use. If you pay attention you will see that there is a lot of non verbal stuff going on too and this can often tell you more about what your child is going through than what they say.
Ask interesting questions. We say that we want our kids to open up to us, but then we ask the most arbitrary, meaningless questions. “How was your day?” invites a response such as “Fine”. “What was the weirdest thing that happened today?” may get you a slightly more interesting answer. Try asking about things that are meaningful to your child. Children feel loved, heard and understood when we show an interest in things that are important to them, even if they are not important to us. True communication involves putting aside your own agenda and truly getting to know somebody else and what makes them come alive.
Active listening is something that anyone can learn. It takes some practice, but the rewards are worth it – children who feel loved, heard and respected and so are more likely to love, hear and respect us in return.