“Mummy, you're not listening…”
Guilty as charged.
When my eldest son was little, he loved to talk. I loved that he was a talk. He was an excellent communicator from an early age, and always engaged delightfully with everyone he met.
For the first four years of his life before his little brother came along, and before I started to work more, he had me all to himself. Then life began to get in the way. I got busier and more distracted, and my first little boy was no longer the center of my attention.
Why Active Listening is So Important
I remember one day, trying to get out of the house on time, I think I was changing the little one’s nappy when suddenly my five-year-old shouted at me from the doorway where he stood:
‘Mummy, you’re not listening!’
I thought I had been listening. I was indeed aware that my son was talking to me about something. I was responding, ‘umm, yes, umm…’ while rushing to finish what I was whatever doing, checking the time, interacting with the baby, and thinking about the stuff I still had to get together before we left the house.
Of course, I wasn’t listening genuinely. Giving your child undivided attention every time she speaks is something that is just not always possible for a parent.
Let’s face it, some children talk a lot.
Having said that it is essential that your child feels heard most of the time. When a child does not feel listened to it can sometimes lead to challenging behavior. Acting out is usually a sure-fire way to get a parent’s attention! Or maybe your child will just stop talking so much, and what a shame that would be.
Practice the Art of Listening
So, ask yourself, are you listening?
Think about your daily interactions with your child.
How often do you really listen to her?
Think about your eye contact, your body language, and your response.
Are you really listening?
How often does your child talk to you while you are doing something else, with your back turned to her?
How often do you talk to your child from a different room?
If you too busy to listen, do you make time later to give your child your full attention?
Listen to the Feelings
When your child is struggling with big or difficult emotions, listening and validating those feelings and emotions can sometimes be all that is needed to help them deal with things.
Think about the times when you really need someone to listen to you, maybe you are upset, frustrated, angry or worried.
What is helpful?
What is unhelpful?
When you listen for feelings you are listening on two levels:
- Listening to the words
- Listening for the emotion behind the words
When your child says to you:
‘I don’t want to go to the party’ think about what the emotions and feelings behind the words. Then consider how your response might change.
Often in this type of situation, a parent might say:
‘Don’t worry, you will be fine when you get there.’
I know I used to respond like this to some of my children’ worries, and have certainly found myself saying things like:
‘Cheer up, it’s not that bad,’ or ‘Don’t be silly, there aren’t any monsters.’
Is this sounding familiar?
As parents, we often want to make everything alright for our children, and when we respond as such we are just trying to make things better. No parent wants their child to be anxious, sad or scared.
But think what this feels like for your child. What if you were scared of spiders and you just found the most enormous black, hairy, evil looking one in the bath. Would you want your partner or whoever was with you to say:
‘Don’t be silly, just pick it up it can’t hurt you.’
Of course not, wouldn’t you rather hear something like this:
‘Wow that is a big one, I can see it’s making you feel anxious.’
Why is it important to listen to the feelings behind the words?
It teaches your child to identify their feelings, which is the first step to being able to manage them.
It encourages talking about feelings.
It helps to strengthen the parent-child relationship and your child will feel heard and understood
It can have a positive effect and help to change negative behavior.
Now that my children are grown up I work as a Parent Coach, I frequently find myself talking to families about the importance of really listening to your child. I know I didn’t always get it right when my boys were young. In fact, I often find myself wishing I could turn the clock back and put into practice some of the suggestions I recommend to the parents I work with now. Listening to my children, really listening, would definitely be top of my list.
About the Author
Jane Rogers lives in the UK and is the founder of The Cambridge Parent Coach. Jane is passionate about Positive Parenting and her aim is to share the ethos and ideas of this style of parenting in a way that is simple to understand, and easy to put into practice. Jane’s two parent workbooks: ‘How to encourage positive behavior so you can enjoy your children’ and ‘How to use positive discipline to improve your child’s behavior’ are available on Amazon.