What is Active Listening?
Sometimes, parents think that they are listening but they may interject before their child has completed their thoughts in various ways. They may finish off a sentence for their child because they are in a hurry. They may reassure their child because they believe that is what the child needs to hear, “Everything will be ok.” They may decide to provide solutions to a problem “Next time, try this.” They may start ask questions before the child is done finishing his or her thought. This moves the conversation down a completely different path.
Active listening is when the parent listens to the child with the intent to listen. So that means not jumping in right away. You want to make sure you completely understand what your child is telling you.
Children express their disappointments and disagreements at different times throughout the day, and you are trying to get a better understanding of what they are experiencing.
It’s all right for a child to complain and express disappointment; they may express disappointment for not making it onto a team, or complain that their friends enjoy more freedom than they do.
The first key element of active listening is avoiding the practice of judging your child. Many times, parents may interrupt their children while talking and say a couple of sentences that makes their child feel like they’re being judged. This can eventually make the child become more of an introvert around their parents.
It’s important to note that acceptance is not the same as agreement. By acceptance, you try to step into the shoes of your children, but you may not necessarily agree with everything that he or she is saying.
Why Practice Active Listening?
Acceptance which is widely regarded, in many religions and beliefs as the ultimate solution to the problems of life, is also considered to be the most important element of Active Listening.
Through active listening, you are able to create a more caring relationship with your child. You are providing them with the tools to understand how to make decisions on their own. This builds confidence in them. They know they have someone on their team that is there to help support them. This type of relationship can help your child become more responsible and open to your love, affection, and guidance.
Active Listening also makes communication very efficient and productive. As active listening involves listening, accepting, and understanding without judging or interrupting, parents get a more accurate understanding of what their child is trying to express.
Active Listening demonstrates trust and care, avoids conflicts, and establishes better understanding. With Active Listening, children feel that they’re being valued and understood, which can build up the relationship and destroy communication gaps.
How to Practice Active Listening?
Mastering the art of active listening will take some practice. It may even take years to master as it is a very sophisticated skill. It may be possible that you did not grow up in an environment where active listening was practiced, so it may feel that you’re learning a foreign language. It may also be possible that once you start practicing these skills, it may occur to you as unnatural and forced.
Here are some of the skills that you can practice to become an active listener:
Communicating with intent
When you communicate your child, he or she is looking for signs, subconsciously, to make sure that you are actually listening to them and not just pretending. Here are some tips to communicate with intent:
- Facing the children
- Opening up your posture
- Leaning towards them when they are talking
- Maintaining eye contact throughout the conversations
- Staying relaxed while listening
Listening with your senses
When you listen with your senses, you tune in to the tone and intensity of the message that is being communicated to you. You look at your child’s facial expression and body language to figure out what he or she is trying to say and what they may want to say. Sometimes children don’t have the words they need to get the message across. Here are some tips to listen with your senses:
- Making eye contact during the conversation
- Avoiding distractions until the conversation is complete
- Observing the body language to understand their emotions
- Refrain from preparing a goal for the conversation; let the children express themselves fully
Searching for Feeling Words
When you search for feeling words you are helping your child regulate their emotions. You are tuning in to how they are feeling. Sometimes, there can be underlying issues beneath what your child is saying. They may be struggling with disappointment, embarrassment, jealousy, trust, rejection, or loss of control. Search for feeling words by listening or looking for:
- If they say “I think it might be because… ” (are they angry, annoyed, intimidated, etc.)
- They use facial expressions that convey emotions (sadness, confusion)
- They seem frustrated or unable to tell you why they are upset
- Help them make the connection by stating “This makes you feel…?”
Clarifying the message
To express your understanding is an important part of the conversation. When the communication starts, try to reflect it back to clarify what your child is trying to tell you. He or she may say “Yes, that’s correct!” or they may say “No, not exactly…” at which point you will have to figure out what you missed or what your child was trying to tell you.
For example: if the child is expressing disappointment with his or her social life, you can respond with something like, “I understand that being with your friends is very important to you.” If the child acknowledges your statement, you’re moving forward; but if they feel that you’re not listening, ask them to clarify.
Remember to paraphrase rather than repeating exactly what your child says. This helps provide them with a more meaningful context for understanding their problem. Through paraphrasing and clarifying, you can help your child understand why he or she feels a particular way. It helps your child understand his or her emotions and it helps them get a better understanding of their own wants, needs, desires, and expectations.