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The art of listening: Moving from telling your child what to do to hearing what they are saying

Creating and maintaining a close relationship with our children can be a daunting task, especially as they mature and change. The secret ingredient that makes the foundation of the parent-child relationship solid and reliable is parental ability of active listening. Active listening it’s the ability not just to listen but also to hear and understand the other person, their feelings and point of view.

How can you actively listen to your child?

1. Maintain eye contact with your child: It helps to overcome doubts, creates trust, and takes down the defenses they might have.

2. Mirror your child’s gestures, words, and facial expressions: This imitation is not meant to mock the child, but instead help you tune in to their state of mind to understand their thoughts and feelings.

3. Remain attentively silent while your child shares what is on their mind: No matter what the child talks about, how silly or non-important it may appear to you, do not interrupt, critique, advice or add anything. Moreover, do not suggest what they should be talking about, instead allowing them to take the initiative and talk about what is on their mind. Show via your posture, gestures, and facial expressions, that your child is being heard. Uncrossing your legs and arms, nodding, and occasionally adding confirmations such as “aha”, “yes”, “right”, will reassure your child you are tuned in and they have your undivided attention.

4. Ask questions and pause after your child responds: Do not rush to respond. Instead, take a moment to think about what your child is sharing. Your silence will demonstrate that you are paying attention and will encourage the child to talk more freely and keep sharing.

5. Clarify and rephrase: Children are often overwhelmed by the intensity of their emotions and are unable to translate them into the words that will help organize their experiences. You can help by paraphrasing their expressed emotions and thoughts. For example, your child says, “you are mean”, you can respond with “I see you are upset with me because I said you can’t watch any more screen time today”. By doing this, you are not only helping your child to organize their feelings, but also reducing the intensity of the negative emotions. Once the child is calmer, they will inevitably feel less defensive because they will feel understood.

The main goal in these conversations should be not teaching our children how they should behave; instead, we should be prepared to listen to them. Because only when we are willing to hear them, we can expect our children to listen to us.

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