Effective communication with your child is the key to having a healthy relationship with him/her. It involves listening well and talking to your child in a way that he listens to you. It requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and practice. Parents are often found scouring the Internet for workable strategies to talk to their child and make him listen to them; but they are often oblivious to working on the more important part i.e. listening to him.
This article will not only give you a chance to reflect upon your behavior with your child and realize what you are doing wrong but also tell you ways to become a good listener for effective communication with a child. It will answer your query of “Am I listening to my child properly?”
Why you might not be listening to your child?
Most parents may be good at talking but do not manage to listen to their children effectively. There are many barriers to effective communication with your child.
According to a 2019 US survey, in married-couple families with children, 64.2% have both parents employed. When parents are juggling their job responsibilities with parenting and household chores, they may be stretched to the limit and do not have the patience to listen to their child.
Parents who are preoccupied with their own thoughts or work, do not listen to their child properly.
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When parents try to manage other tasks like cooking and watching television along with listening to what their child is saying, their attention is divided and they are unable to listen properly.
Parents often anticipate what their child is going to say next, and cut him in the middle. This hinders effective communication with child.
Fatigue or Hunger
When parents are too tired or hungry, they may feel irritated and less inclined to listen to their child properly.
When parents are going through an emotional upheaval, they may not be paying too much attention to listening to their child.
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The inability of some parents to understand non-verbal cues and focusing on words only may cause a lack of effective communication with the child.
They are completely unaware of what they are doing wrong and how to become a good listener.
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Why you should listen to your child to ensure effective communication with the child?
You may find it very hard to manage enough time and patience to “listen” to your child due to mounting responsibilities at home and work. But it is very important for effective communication with a child and proves very rewarding in the long run.
- It strengthens the parent-child relationship.
- This may be useful in preventing sexual abuse too, as your child has the confidence to share everything with you.
- It encourages them to continue sharing with you in their teenage years too. If you do not listen to your child in his childhood, he may not share important stuff in his life with you when he grows up.
- When you give them your undivided attention and listen to them, they feel valued. This boosts up their self-esteem.
- This creates emotional awareness in your child.
- It promotes the exchange of ideas between parents and children which may be fruitful for the parent too. This is because children think out of the box and give creative solutions to problems.
- It sets a model for them and develops their listening skills too which will promote learning.
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Effective Communication with Child: How to listen to your child properly?
Most parents are completely unaware of the concept of active listening which is encouraged by child physicians and psychologists for effective communication with children. It is a technique that requires you to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and remember what is being said.
Here are some ways that will help you become a good listener.
Practice makes a man perfect
Listening like any other skill can be honed with practice. It is not an inherent trait. You can make conscious efforts to make it better. Playtime is a good time to practice these skills for effective communication with a child.
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Show interest and rapt attention
Most children are very expressive. They are bursting to tell you all their daily activities and innovative ideas popping up in their mind. But they also have sensitive antennae that can sense your level of interest or attention. You cannot fool them into believing that you are listening to them while your eyes are glued to the television screen or a simmering saucepan in the kitchen.
For effective communication with the child, show him that you are interested in what he is saying and it is important for you. This helps him express his ideas more freely.
Show your interest with your words
You can show your interest by saying phrases like “Tell me more!” “Oh really?” or “I would love to know.”
Brush aside distractions
It may be very difficult for you to resist watching television or finishing your work first. But leave whatever you are doing and pay full attention to effective communication with the child. Put your phone aside. This may seem like an overstatement but your child is going to remember forever that you turned off your phone to listen to him.
If you have an urgent piece of work to do
In this case, you can tell your child you will be available soon to talk.
“Mommy has an urgent piece of work. Can you finish it quickly or we can discuss it at length right after I finish?”
Maintain eye contact
You must resist the temptation of a message alert on your mobile and maintain eye contact with your child. This shows your focused attention. Your child notices where you are looking anywhere else.
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Listen to non-verbal messages
If you think your child only communicates with you through words, you are grossly mistaken. For effective communication with a child, you have to be aware of the non-verbal cues that include tone, body language, facial expressions, posture, and energy level. Closely observe them. Listening isn’t just hearing words but also understanding what is behind them. You can tell more from the way your child said something than from what is being said. See if your child is gritting teeth in anger or jumping with excitement.
Listen with Patience
Listening to a child may require a lot of patience, but is pivotal for effective communication with the child.
Let him finish
Do not jump in or interrupt or put words in his mouth. Listen in a way that shows you have plenty of time. You may have the irresistible urge to complete unfinished sentences of your child or correct him when he says something wrong, but wait! Let him finish. Listen to him till the end of the story, even when he says something ridiculous or wrong.
Give him time to find words
Your child may take a lot of time to find appropriate words because of his limited vocabulary and experience. Give him time to find words.
Do not prejudge
It is very easy to anticipate what your child is going to say next. But try not to prejudge. Listen with an open mind. And let him speak.
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Get down to his level
You have to get down to his level. Do not sound smarter or faster than him. This can irritate him. You have to realize that “his teacher said something to him” may seem a very minor thing for you, but it is a matter of life and death for him. His stolen pencil may cause extreme distress. Getting a star from the teacher may be the most joyous event of his life. You have to put yourself in his shoes.
You must show an appropriate response to your child to encourage him to keep speaking.
Give a support response, not a shift response
Some parents do not let their children speak and give a shift response. Shift response is the tendency of the listener to turn the topic to themselves without showing interest in the speaker. For example, some parents start narrating their own experiences rather than letting the child speak. You may have a lot to tell your child about yourself and you may have gone through a lot in your life, but your child deserves to be listened to too. Show a support response as opposed to a me-oriented shift response.
Sometimes, it may be a good idea to respond without words. Quiet acceptance may be as valuable as feedback. With a well-timed “hmm” and “wow” you can show your interest but allow them to speak more. You can nod, smile, and show affection.
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Reflection of Words: Repeat what he said
It is a good idea to repeat what your child said. This tells him that he is being listened to and understood, and strengthens his confidence. However:
- Do not sound way faster or smarter than the child.
- You can rephrase it and add detail.
- You can correct pronunciation and grammar.
- Your child said, “I readed this book.”
You can respond by saying, “ Oh you read this colorful book. What is it about?”
Active listening requires you to say, “Oh, nice! You have colored it in red and green.”
This also increases his vocabulary.
Show an understanding of your child’s feelings
Your child will want to continue talking to you only if he feels he is being understood. Listen in a way that shows that you understand him completely. Do not lecture your child. Otherwise, he may clam up.
Empathize with your child
Show empathy. Try to understand things from the child’s point of view. Do not be critical or judgemental. Make him feel that he did the right thing by telling you what he feels.
Use words to validate his feelings
Show that you understand what he is going through, and it is okay to feel whatever he is feeling. Respond in a sensitive way to his emotions of anger, sadness, embarrassment, or fear. You may not agree with his feelings, but never tell him that he should stop feeling a particular way.
“Oh, dear! That would have upset me too.”
“I am sorry I wasn’t there to help.”
Don’t start cheering him up at once
Some parents abruptly start trying to cheer up their children. “Hey! Do not worry! Cheer up!” You should not say this to him directly when he starts sharing. This invalidates his feelings, or just temporarily suppresses them and they may resurface later. Let him understand and explore his feelings.
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Don’t rush into problem-solving
Similarly don’t rush into problem-solving although you may really want to. Your child might just want you to listen, and to feel that his feelings and opinions matter to someone. Control your own anxiety.
Don’t put him on the spot
If your child is expressing something that is sensitive to him, he may not like you to ask direct questions or look at him directly. Avoid asking direct questions like “Why did you feel angry at your friend?” or “Why do you feel upset about such a little thing?” This puts him on the spot and may make him feel uncomfortable.
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Reflection of emotions
He might be feeling powerful emotions that he himself is not aware of. Your child may not be able to find words for his feelings because of his little vocabulary and experience. But you must observe and help him find words with your wider vocabulary for effective communication with the child. This enables him to express his feelings as clearly as possible and gives him a deeper understanding of words and inner thoughts.
“Oh you are unhappy and sad.” This helps him understand that the emotion he is going through is sadness and adds a new word in his dictionary.
- If your child tells you he feels very bad about another child because the teacher appreciated him more; you introduce your child to a new feeling i.e. jealousy.
- His friend ditched him and played with other classmates in the break time, a good response can be, “Oh you felt left-out. And this made you feel sad. ”
- His teacher asked him to stand up as a punishment and he tells you he feels bad, you may say, “Oh you felt embarrassed. I would have felt the same.”
Do not worry about getting it wrong
Sometimes, a child’s response may mean a lot of things. For example your child’s crying may mean he is upset, angry, or scared. Make a guess. “It seems that you are upset. Something is bothering you.” If you are wrong, your child will correct you. Ask him to help you understand his emotion.
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Avoid dead-end questions
Ask open-minded questions while conversing that helps your child wallow in the valleys of their creativity and share their ideas. Extend the conversation for effective communication with the child. The questions, that require a simple “yes”/“no” or a right answer, lead to a dead end.
Use conversation openers
“How was the day?”
“How would you have taught this lesson if you were the teacher?”
“You seem angry.”
Avoid conversation closers
“Oh okay. You should forget about it.”
“Don’t be such a baby! Grow up!”
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Look for signs to stop the conversation
Your child may show signs that he is tired and wants to stop the conversation. He may stare into space, give silly responses, or ask you to repeat stuff again and again. You have to understand what your child wants.
Most children are chatterboxes while some require a lot of encouragement and positive responses to start talking. They might need an invitation to start talking. Encourage them to talk, “Tell me about your day at school?” Give value to what they say. They will share ideas only when others think they are important.
Share your thoughts
You can also encourage talking by sharing your thoughts. For instance, “I plan to change the setting. I don’t know where to put this table.” Your child may offer a suggestion.
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Set aside time to talk and listen to your child
In the rat race and high tech era, fix a time to spend with your child at least once a day. It may be 10 minutes of talking before bedtime or after coming home from school. Family meals are also a great time to do practice listening skills for effective communication with a child.
A 2013 research has shown that frequent family meals and having more conversation predicted less depressive symptoms in children.
As children grow older, many parents complain that their child does not like to interact with them and share things with them. The most important reason for this is usually a lack of effective communication with the child. Parents claim that they have always tried to listen to their child, but when asked most of them are totally unaware of the concept of active listening. Jane Nelsen, the author of Positive Discipline Series says: “Children will listen to you after they feel listened to.”
It may seem easy to brush off your child’s problems especially when you are busy, but this plays havoc with their emotions. When your child comes running to you to tell you even the most trivial thing, make sure you do not disappoint him. Become the audience your child wants.
Do not let your frantic and frenetic routine deprive you of these moments of effective communication with the child. Give him your full attention, stop whatever you are doing, and reflect his words and emotions. Your child needs to know that you will always be there to listen to him.