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Why It's Important to Listen to Your Kids

(Psst: That’s how they learn to listen to you)

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Most of us are so busy and distracted that really listening feels like a luxury. But everyone yearns to be heard and understood. Listening attentively to our kids and teaching them how to listen to others is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.
Listening, Really Listening

Listening is a complicated process. Ten people can listen to the same thing, and each one may "hear" it differently. Linguist Deborah Tannen explains that we all filter what we hear through our own frames of reference. For example, you may say to your child "Do you have your backpack?" but what she hears might be "You always forget things." Here are some suggestions to improve your kids' listening skills--and your own.

Helping Your Kids Listen to You

1. Find an appropriate time and place to talk.

You can't expect your child to absorb what you tell him while you're on the phone or on the run. And your child is unlikely to hear what you've said when she's on the computer or engaged with friends. Pick a quiet and undistracted time for important exchanges.

2. Connect physically.

To convey instructions, make eye contact. It keeps your child focused and enables you to "read" his reaction. However for emotionally laden exchanges, eye contact is often not helpful. Try "parallel talking" instead. Talking as you walk side by side will facilitate speaking and listening.

3. Provide opportunities for feedback and discussion.

Make sure your child heard you by asking her to restate what you said. For example, if you say, "Little League practice is cancelled today, so remember to take the school bus home!" ask her to explain the plan for after-school. A brief conversation about why the practice has been cancelled may also help your child remember what you discussed.

4. Try to limit "directives" and long speeches.

Kids, like adults, need time to process what they've heard. They also need time to respond. But directives such as "Wash your hands!" or "Turn off the TV!" don't give kids an opportunity to respond. When that's what they hear from morning to night, they may begin to tune you out. They also drift off when you go on and on and on and on. . . .

5. Model attentive, mindful, active listening.

Your kids can learn to be good listeners by noticing how you listen. Restate what they have said to show them that you understood and heard them. Respond to what they say. Show them that listening is an exchange of views.

6. If your child is often inattentive, check his hearing.

It's astonishing how many kids with hearing loss are not diagnosed until grade school, or even later. Congenital hearing loss can often be corrected once diagnosed by a pediatrician or audiologist. And ear infections can cause temporary hearing difficulties in young kids.

6 Listening Tips for Parents
  • Listen for the main point. Don't get caught up in details.
  • Allow your child to fully express her thoughts. Don't correct or interrupt her mid way.
  • Stay calm, and avoid passing immediate judgments.
  • Ask questions to make sure you truly understand what your child is telling you. It will reassure him that you’ve heard what he's said.
  • Respond with empathy when your child expresses feelings such as sadness, anxiety, or joy.
  • Elicit your child's opinions and express your own views. Discuss possible actions and solutions with your child in a thoughtful way.