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Kids deserve to be seen and heard. But in order for kids to feel safe and secure enough to share how they really feel, parents have to learn how to practice active listening.

Active Listening of parent and child

Every parent wants to raise hard workers who go out into the world and make a difference. But more than anything else, parents just want their kids to be happy. That might sound like an impossible balancing act, but it’s not! By practicing active listening, you can help your child express themselves and feel heard, encouraging their happiness and self-confidence. 

Active listening—the process of intentionally listening to and understanding another person —can sound hard. As parents, we have many things on our minds and can be distracted. Sometimes, we don’t always know what to say or how to help our children. 

That doesn’t mean we should stop trying, though! You can learn how to be an active listener by reading this article.

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What Is Active Listening?

Active listening, in a nutshell, is simply the act of taking the time to notice what you’re hearing from your child. It is an essential skill that helps us build relationships with others. It’s also critical when teaching our children how to function in society.

Think about a typical conversation. We often aren’t even thinking about what we say when we talk to each other. We blurt out whatever comes to mind and prioritize getting our point across. However, when we actively listen, we pay attention to the words coming out of another person’s mouth.

When you’re having a conversation with your child, pay attention to everything they say. Instead of overreacting or giving approval (or disapproval) too soon, listen and tell them that you’d like to hear more details about whatever it is that they’re talking about. This will allow them to talk to you about something without feeling judged or criticized. It also helps them learn how to communicate effectively because they’ll have seen this skill modeled by you. 

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Benefits of Fostering Active Listening in Kids

Active listening is beneficial, as it builds your communication with your child and boosts your relationship with them.

Better listening skills also have several other benefits for you and your child, such as: 

  • They’ll get to know you more and feel connected to you.
  • You will get closer to your child because you’ll be able to see things from their perspective. 
  • They’ll learn to express themselves in a more productive way, rather than relying on emotional outbursts or massive tantrums.
  • They’ll help you recognize the signs of when they’re feeling upset and out of control.
  • You’ll be able to better understand your child and their needs, both emotional and physical.
  • They’ll get used to the idea of talking about things that they actually want rather than whatever is popular or trendy at the moment.
  • They’ll learn to cope with uncomfortable emotions (such as sadness, anger, frustration, and grief).
  • They’ll feel more confident because they’ll know that you care about what they’re saying and how they’re feeling.
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How to Do Active Listening With Your Kid

As parents, we tend to focus on having the “right” response to a child’s questions and forget about listening to their point of view. The result is that kids feel unheard, misunderstood, and frustrated. 

When you do listen, though—and we mean really listen to a child with empathy—you can avoid misunderstandings and conflicts by bridging the communication gap between parent and child. Here’s how to do active listening with your kid:

1. Be patient with your kids.

Kids need time to think about what they’ll say before saying it. So be patient with your kid and give them time to get their thoughts out. 

The more time you give them, the more likely they’ll share with you.

2. Pay attention to what your kids are saying.

Listen to what your kid is saying and tell them that you want to hear more. 

By concentrating on all of their words instead of just the last few sentences they said, you’ll be able to listen more attentively, making you a better listener.

3. Take notes.

Taking notes of your kid’s story’s critical points will help you remember everything they tell you. You want to be able to repeat back what they’re saying in your own words.

But to do this, you need to follow step four.

4. Be utterly present in the moment.

If you want to be a good listener, you need to be entirely there with your kid. So if your child says something, try to be as focused on them as possible. (No multitasking!)

Look directly at them, tilt your head in interest, or nod to let them know you’re paying attention. Let them know that you’re listening and ready to listen further.

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5. Ask open-ended questions.

When you ask your child questions, the answer may be more complicated than you think. So instead of just asking your kids questions that will only get a yes or no response, try asking them open-ended questions. 

Some examples of open-ended questions are: 

  • What did you think when that happened?
  • Tell me about …
  • How did you feel about ….?
  • What do you want/need to make that happen?
  • What happened when ….?

While your child is talking, don’t interrupt them to interject any thoughts, opinions, or comments of your own. Sometimes children will say a string of things without any gaps between them. So when they pause for breath, you can use this as an opportunity to ask an open-ended question about the next part of their story.

6. Focus on their emotions.

When practicing active listening with your child, focus on their feelings and what they may be going through emotionally. 

Children do feel their caregivers’ emotions. They can interpret their parents’ actions (or lack of response) as meaning that their feelings are not being acknowledged or are even wrong. So, when a child feels frustrated and misunderstood, they will often withdraw from communication or lash out by acting in a way that harms themselves or another person. 

If your child is sad or upset, then say something like, “I can sense that you’re upset. Is there anything I can do to help?” 

Reassure your child that you care about them and want to help them. 

If they are happy, say something like, “I can sense that you’re happy. Tell me more about why you are so happy.” 

This teaches your child to open up about important feelings. It can also lead to meaningful conversations between parent and child, whether they’re in a good mood or otherwise. 

Active Listening Calm
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7. Encourage them to express what’s on their mind.

Give your child the chance to talk about what’s on their mind and help them process their feelings. Remember that parenting is a partnership between you and your child. Your child will feel better if you understand their feelings—or at least try. 

Guide them through the process by asking questions, letting them know you understand, and prompting conversation. That could look like saying “I can see why you feel that way, tell me more” or “That sounds hard. What do you think might help?”

Also, remember to listen with an open mind and be sure to let your child know you’re listening. A feeling of being heard and understood is vital to your child’s well-being. 

And when your child is upset with something you have done, don’t argue about right or wrong. Hear them out and apologize if necessary.

This lets your child know that you’re a good listener and a safe space for all their feelings. It’s also an opportunity to model forgiveness and self-advocacy.

8. Use positive reinforcement.

One way of helping kids build up their courage to talk more about what’s on their minds is to reinforce them with positive feedback like verbal affirmations.

Try asking your child about a positive experience they’ve had and then praising them for sharing it with you. You can say something like, “I’m proud of you for telling me about how you feel. That takes courage, but I also know that it’s very important to you.” 

This gives them praise for expressing themselves, which helps build their self-esteem. It also boosts their confidence in sharing with you if they have something they want or need to tell you in the future. 

9. Give your child some space and stay calm.

Usually, kids will share what’s really on their minds only after they’ve established a trusting relationship with us. If your child shares something with you and then tries to act as if they didn’t say anything, don’t take it personally. They may just be scared that if they shared their thoughts or feelings with you, it would somehow lead to trouble or make things worse for them in some way. 

A part of active listening as a parent is learning to control your own emotions. If you get upset or anxious about what your child tells you, your child will become anxious and worried about telling you anything. 

So stay calm. 

Don’t show them how you may be feeling. Doing so may make them feel even more embarrassed or upset than they already are. Wait until after your conversation with your child to process your feelings alone, with your partner, friends, or therapist.

Remember, it’s okay for your child to feel depressed. It’s even okay if they feel like crying or running away from home because they feel overwhelmed with their feelings. 

What’s not okay is letting them feel alone in those feelings. 

Give your kids something to hold onto—someone who will listen to them without judging them and who will provide them with the time and attention they need so that they can work through their feelings.

Andrea is currently the head of content management at SpringHive Web Design Company, a digital agency that provides creative web design, social media marketing, email marketing, and search engine optimization services to small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also a blog contributor at Baby Steps Preschool where she writes storytime themes, parenting tips, and seasonal activities to entertain children.

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