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Active Listening Skills Enrich Your Parental Communication

Active Listening Skills Enrich Your Parental Communications

It’s easy for the important things to go out of focus when you are getting your family’s dinner on the table, helping with homework and making sure your child has what they need for their extra-curricular activity. At times, children are telling us things and we just go through the motions of hearing, but we’re not really listening. When this happens, we can miss little cues that tell us how they are doing and how they are feeling.

Listening and hearing your child is crucial to their development. When your child is sharing a part of their day with you, it’s important to show that you are listening; knowing that they are being heard provides a sense of security and reinforces good self-esteem. Start by looking at how you listen; as you become a better listener yourself, you will be able to help your child learn these skills.

Active listening skills aren’t complex; you need to focus your attention on the speaker, suspend all judgement, and listen for the emotion as well as the words. When the speaker has completed a thought try to verbally restate/summarize what you just heard, avoiding adding your own interpretation. Next, check-in to make sure you’ve understood what the person is saying to you, ask: “What I think I heard you say was…is that right/did I understand you?”

The key is that you are not trying to come to an agreement, but you are just listening and acknowledging that you are hearing what they are saying (not what you want to hear).

Think about a conversation where you felt the person you were speaking with really listened to what you were saying. It’s likely that person used some of these techniques that made you feel heard and understood (although you may not have been aware that they were doing so, as some of these techniques are about the work the listener is doing internally)

  • Make eye contact (but remember, that for teens, it may be better to be driving somewhere, cooking together or be engaged in another task that makes your child not feel like the search light is shining directly on them.)
  • Be attentive
  • Suspend judgement: be open-minded
  • Listen to what the person is saying and picture it
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Ask questions to help better understand the situation
  • Empathize with the person
  • Give positive feedback

When you make a conscious effort to use these techniques with our family, your child will begin to mimic these behaviors (especially if you prompt them to use these techniques).

Listening well does not mean you always agree with what your child is saying. Children do look for affirmation from their parents; whether or not you agree with what your child says or how they handled a situation, take a step back and listen in order to try to understand where your child is coming from before jumping in with your opinion, ideas or judgment.

Take a minute to think about what it felt like to be child’s age– what was a big deal to you then is not so important today. As an adult and as a parent you can provide perspective that can help a child think about and understand their own experience. By suspending your judgement and listening actively you can help your child truly understand what they are saying and feeling and to work through complex emotions and difficult situations.

Your child learns about how to communicate in every conversation they have. Using these techniques at home translates into other settings; being able to hear what other people are saying is a valuable social skill. While important in daily life, these skills can be crucial when facing challenging situations, and provides a framework for working out conflict.

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Try using these tips to help you get the best out of a conversation with your family and will build bridges to better communication:

  1. Set up some one on one time with each on one your children, whether they are helping you make dinner, set the table etc.
  2. Focus on them, ask them how their day was, ask open ended questions, make sure they know you are interested on what they have to say.
  3. Try not to interrupt if they are telling you a story about some behavior you don’t really agree with, try to ask questions that are not judgmental, for example; “why do you think you reacted that way?” “how did you feel after you had that reaction?” help them sort through the emotions and come up with their own conclusions.
  4. Put yourself in their position, try to listen and not over analyze what they are saying, remember they are talking to you, they want to trust you with their stories and feelings.
  5. Maybe you can share an experience where something similar has happened to you, and you can offer some comfort.
  6. Restate parts of the story, so your child knows you are listening and this also helps you better understand the context of the story.
  7. Repeat with each child, sometimes having these conversations as a group may have some family members feel left out and not heard.

Over time, using these techniques will help develop your family’s listening “muscle.” According to Stephen Walton from The Positive Parenting Centre website: “It’s critical to model your capacity to listen and understand.  In turn, your child will instinctively develop active listening techniques of their own.  They will become less argumentative and defensive, become more democratic and develop emotional maturity.”  Be the best listener you can be to help promote good communication and understanding within your family.   Active listening is not only about paying attention, it is about engaging in dialogue and one important pay-off is deeper and richer family relationships. The skills used in active listening aren’t hard or complex. It can feel a bit artificial if you’re using these techniques for the first time, but with time, you’ll be using them without thinking.

Further Reading

A List of 9 Books to Help Teach and Reinforce Active Listening http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/books/best-books-to-teach-listening/

How to Practice Active Listening https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-active-listening-3024343

Comic relief: Everybody Loves Raymond https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VOubVB4CTU

How to use Active Listening with Children  http://hybridparenting.org/how-to-use-active-listening-with-children/

You Know What I Mean? Giving Directions (for parents of toddlers and preschoolers) https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/videos/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fparents%2Fessentials%2Fvideos%2Fvideo_direct_vid.html

Listening is a Skill http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/healthy-communication/the-skill-of-listening/

Ten Steps to Help with Active Listening https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/11/09/10-steps-to-effective-listening/#1717be7d3891

Active Listening Skills Enrich your Parental Communication http://www.the-positive-parenting-centre.com/active_listening_skills.html

Become a Better Listener https://psychcentral.com/lib/become-a-better-listener-active-listening/

‘When I Was Your Age’ And Other Pitfalls Of Talking To Teens About Stress http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/04/16/523592625/-when-i-was-your-age-and-other-conversational-pitfalls-of-talking-to-teens

Taking Action: Family games and activities that help sharpen listening skills:

Series of Sound

Using everyday items, you can incorporate hidden sounds into a family game. Challenge family members to listen for, draw, and repeat a series of common sounds. It’s amazing how much everyone tunes out the sounds around them.

Preparation

  • Collect everyday objects such as a stapler, book, paper, kitchen tools or toys and place in a plastic bin or cardboard box.
  • Be sure to have a variety of items on hand to make noise with. Take turns making organizing a set number of these. For example, a series might include banging a book on the desk, bouncing a small ball, stomping your foot, clapping your hands, stapling papers, whistling, clicking keyboard keys, or shaking a bag of Lego blocks.

Instructions

  1. After dinner, have everyone at the table listen for sounds made only by the designated “sound engineer.”
  2. Every time a new sound is made, everyone should draw a picture of the item that made the sound.
  3. After all the sounds are made, share everyone’s lists, pass around the items drawn and recreate the series of sounds in order. Celebrate everyone’s listening success and laugh about the sounds no one got.

The Last Word

Multi-tasking is an essential element of effective listening. Similar to a common improvisation activity, this game challenges students to listen to classmates while also preparing a relevant statement in their head. Small or large groups can easily play ‘The Last Word.’

  1. Choose a topic such as in the jungle, prehistoric life, an episode of a TV show, or a new pop song.
  2. Select an order by handing out numbers or base your order on the seating arrangements.
  3. The first player must walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that relates to the chosen topic.
  4. The next player must immediately walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that starts with the last word said by the player immediately before them.
  5. Play continues until all students have had a turn. If a student is unable to come up with an appropriate sentence within ten seconds, he is out of the game.
  6. Game play continues in this fashion until there is only one person left and he is the winner.

Story Builder

Instead of playing 20 Questions on your next car trip. start a story where one person starts a story with a single sentence. Each person adds a new sentence, but only after repeating all of the previous sentences.

If you have a preschooler, check out this list of activities that enhance the development of listening skills: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/52641/listening-skills/

Try using these tips to help you get the best out of a conversation with your family and will build bridges to better communication:

  1. Set up some one on one time with each on one your children, whether they are helping you make dinner, set the table etc.
  2. Focus on them, ask them how their day was, ask open ended questions, make sure they know you are interested on what they have to say.
  3. Try not to interrupt if they are telling you a story about some behavior you don’t really agree with, try to ask questions that are not judgmental, for example; “why do you think you reacted that way?” “how did you feel after you had that reaction?” help them sort through the emotions and come up with their own conclusions.
  4. Put yourself in their position, try to listen and not over analyze what they are saying, remember they are talking to you, they want to trust you with their stories and feelings.
  5. Maybe you can share an experience where something similar has happened to you, and you can offer some comfort.
  6. Restate parts of the story, so your child knows you are listening and this also helps you better understand the context of the story.
  7. Repeat with each child, sometimes having these conversations as a group may have some family members feel left out and not heard.

Over time, using these techniques will help develop your family’s listening “muscle.” According to Stephen Walton from The Positive Parenting Centre website: “It’s critical to model your capacity to listen and understand.  In turn, your child will instinctively develop active listening techniques of their own.  They will become less argumentative and defensive, become more democratic and develop emotional maturity.” Be the best listener you can be to help promote good communication and understanding among your family.  Active listening is not only about paying attention, it is about engaging in dialogue and one important pay-off is deeper and richer family relationships.

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