Parents often tell me they want to stop repeating themselves and ask how to get their kids to listen. I agree, it would be less stressful if kids listened the first time (or even the second time!). But listening is hard, in fact, I know several adults that struggle with listening too. If you want your kids to listen to you, the best thing you can do is practice listening to them.
I have taken several classes that focused on the skill of listening, or “active listening,” to be more precise.
I did not learn to listen by simply turning on my “listening ears.”
And I did not learn listening skills when asked (or shouted at), “Are you listening to me?!”
In fact, I did not learn how to listen until I was trained to listen, as an adult.
I learned to listen by practicing listening.
I learned to listen by not talking (outloud or in my head).
And I learned the importance of being present in the moment and not distracted by 20,000 other things.
I’m still not perfect at it (no one is). But you might surprise yourself when you take the time to practice listening to your children. Sometimes you can avoid bigger battles (power struggles) by simply listening to your child.
The best time to try and listen is when your child is upset. Try to remain calm and listen to what they are trying to communicate with you by:
1. Patiently Paying Attention
Allow your child time to express what they are feeling. Wait to respond (count to 10 in your head if you need to). Be patient. This allows your child enough time to think and express themselves.
Additionally, focus not only on the words that they are saying but also their nonverbal communication. Also, pay attention to your own body language. Are you hovering over them with a scowl on your face or are you on your knees, at their level, with an open posture?
Focus on the moment and eliminate any distractions, if possible. Set your phone down or better yet, put it away to show your child they have your undivided attention.
2. Withholding judgement
Have an open mind. Getting the red cup instead of the blue cup may seem trivial as an adult, but for a child, it is the end of the world. Be accepting of your child’s feelings. Be empathetic.
Avoid starting the conversation with “no” or asking why (it tends to make others defensive). Also, don’t offer advice or try to fix it.
Don’t assume you heard your child correctly. Mirror your child’s emotions (non-verbally) and periodically paraphrase what they are expressing.
- Your child might start crying and yelling “not the red cup!”
- To paraphrase you might say: “I hear you, you didn’t want the red cup” or “you are angry I gave you the red cup.”
- Your child might start hitting and crying at the end of a play date.
- To reflect you might say: “Oh I see that you are upset. You don’t want to leave. You’re not ready to go”
Ask open ended questions if your child is able to respond. If not, try to encourage a non-verbal dialogue, if possible.
- “You are really upset I gave you the red cup and you wanted the blue cup. I wonder what would help right now?”
- Or, “It looks like you’re mad you have to stop playing because you are having so much fun. Do you wish you could stay longer?”
Restate key themes and seek clarification that you understood correctly.
- “You are upset that I gave you the red cup and you want to pick your cup, is that right?”
- Or, “You don’t want to stop playing, do you? You are having so much fun you want to stay and keep playing. You are upset it is time to leave.”
Like parenting, listening is a skill. It takes practice. The more you model listening, the more your kids will listen.
We can stop talking and listen to our kid, even if what they say seems outrageous.
In the moment, slow down and stop talking.Take the time and listen to what your child has to say. Don’t negate them and don’t focus on trying to fix the problem. Don’t prepare your defense as they talk, just listen.
The more you slow down and take the time to actively listen to your child and respect what they have to say, the more they will listen to your perspective.