We all want to be heard and understood. Knowing that others are taking the time to actively listen to us helps build stronger bonds and more positive relationships with those around us. This rings especially true for young children, so it is important for parents to talk and listen to their child.
Listen to your child, really listen
Listening is a two-way street. If parents want their child to listen and be good listeners, they'll first need to listen to their children. This is so important for building a positive relationship and mutual respect.
If we want respect, we need to give respect
Children may be small, but they are human beings, and they deserve just as much respect as you would give to any adult.
Below are some tips to help you practice and demonstrate active listening with your child.
- Show your child that you are listening to them by physically getting down on their level. Look them in the eyes and get their attention. Actively listen to them using face, voice, body (no electronics).
- Be patient. Let your child finish speaking before responding—don’t interrupt or talk over them or guess what they are going to say.
- When you do respond, express empathy by mirroring their emotions. Say things like “I know how you feel" or "I remember when I was your age and I was afraid to...”
- Try to describe their feelings and label their emotions, using phrases like: “I can tell you are upset” and “Your face looks sad.”
- Offer encouragement by asking them to tell you more. Listen well so you can know more about and validate their interests/friends/games.
- Notice positive behavior: comment, smile, give them a thumbs up. (Children want to please!)
- Use Enforceable Statements. This is language that empowers children by giving them choices, while still communicating your expectations. There are a few examples of this below.
Follow through with your consequences. Be consistent.
Your child needs to know you MEAN what you SAY. S/he needs to know s/he can TRUST what you say. If you make an empty threat and/or don’t follow through with your actions – s/he learns… “My mom doesn’t really mean it.” “I don’t trust or believe what she says.”
What you permit – you teach
Children learn to misbehave because what you allow your child to do, you directly or indirectly teach them. So, be aware that when you "let go" misbehaviors, you are communicating that it is OK to misbehave. If you allow them to speak rudely or disrespectfully to you or hit or pull you away when you are talking to another adult, you are teaching them: “It’s OK to treat me this way.”
*Note: Consequences don’t have to be immediate. It’s OK to talk about things later or have a consequence later when you are in a better place/state of mind and have had time to think about it.
By slowing down, actively listening, showing respect and using enforceable statements with our children, we foster a loving relationship which will make our children more inclined to listen to us.
- Never argue with a child. You are the adult and adults don’t argue with children. Try saying things like “I am happy to listen when you’ve calmed down.”
- If your child begins whining, ask them to “Try again in a sweet voice.” Or say “My ears can’t hear you when you are whining.” Model aloud how you would prefer they speak to you. Let them practice by repeating your exact words and tone.
- You can find additional information in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Farmer and Elaine Mazlish.
Anne Gribble is an EC Teacher and Parent Educator at Concordia International School Shanghai