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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Skills for Listening to your Kids

I think it's a natural tendency to believe the most important part of communication is the "talking" part. But that's really not true. The way we receive messages can sometimes play a more valuable role, than the way we send them.

Much of the coursework for my MS in Counseling was related to listening skills. Although I don't always practice these skills, I'm a much more effective parent when I do. We aren't naturally groomed to respond this way as parents (particularly numbers 4-6), so I thought it might be helpful to share a few "active listening" techniques that help to improve communication with kids. (And adults!)

1. Eye contact -- If you're looking into your kids' faces, they know you're "with them".

2. Minimal encouragers -- subtle expressions, verbal or non-verbal, like a nod of the head, or "mmm-hmmm", or "interesting". Minimal encouragers help to keep the conversation continuing, without interrupting the flow.

3. Clarifying -- asking a specific question to encourage your child to expand on their thought, so that you understand completely. "Really? How did..."

4. Paraphrasing -- subtly repeating what they just said. "So math was fun, but you forgot your homework."

5. Reflecting -- guessing at feelings. "Sounds like you were pretty mad at Mr. Johnson..."

6. Silence. Sometimes they don't need anything from you but to listen without interruption.

What helps you listen to your kids??

For more tips on everythingknowntowoman, check out Rocks in my Dryer.

This post is a part of Problogger's always-excellent writing project. Click here for more "how to" posts.


  • always good to read a refresher. :)

    By Blogger Janice (5 Minutes for Mom), At 2:19 AM  

  • When I’m busy writing and my 3-year old wants to talk to me, I close my laptop. When I’m on the phone talking to somebody else, I ask my 3-year old if what he wants to tell me can wait. If it can, I ask him to wait for a minute or two. If it cannot, I ask the person I am talking to on the phone if I could call him back.

    It works.

    “Can I talk to you?” I asked my 3-year old one time, while he was busy playing with his action figures.

    My 3-year old looked at me and said, “Daddy, is it OK if you wait for a minute? Superman is fighting the bad guys. This is important.”



    By Anonymous Mike, At 5:50 AM  

  • Great post Kelly! I love your site as well and the quote with the photo! I'm leading a class in November with my husband entitled, Listening for Love: Effective Listening for Couples because, like you mentioned, often the communication skills emphasis is on being the talker instead of the listener. Thanks for inspiring parents (and non-parents) like you have! If you want to check out my post to the group writing project, here it is:
    Everyday Gifts – How You Can Show Your Love Without Spending a Dime. Peace.

    By Anonymous Shonnie, At 9:09 AM  

  • Good thoughts.

    One of my kids most "opened up" in the car -- I'm not sure why. But we had more discussions there than anywhere. If I tried to sit across from him at the table and talk, he wouldn't open up. So I guess it helps to be tuned in to your kids and what ways they are most comfortable and open and willing to talk -- which might be different for each one.

    By Anonymous Barbara H., At 9:20 AM  

  • I once took a "coaching" course, and we were told to listen to what not's being said. Sometimes people think their problem is "a" but when you listen well, you discover it's really "b."

    By Blogger muse, At 11:53 AM  

  • What an excellent list. Thanks for the reminders.

    Okay, here's one to add to help improve listening skills. Stop whatever you're doing to give them your undivided attention, rather than listening with one ear and working on a project at the same time.

    I'm guilty of this at times and when I catch myself, I stop what I'm doing listen.

    By Blogger Overwhelmed!, At 12:16 PM  

  • Agree with overwhelmed. Give them our undivided attention. Your suggestion of looking at them really helps with this.

    Another thing: don't judge what they're saying. Give them the right to their own opinions. And if we disagree, do so respectfully.

    By Blogger Musing, At 12:23 PM  

  • A couple of thoughts here--

    1) When my children were young, if they realized I was "half-listening" they'd take my face in their hands and turn it so they could engage my eyes. Now that they're older, I suppose they think they're beyond this; the truth is, sometimes I STILL half-listen. They KNOW when I'm guilty.

    2) Playback. We "play" the game "let me tell you what I just heard". Sometimes we hear accurately, sometimes we bring our own thoughts and prejudices into the conversation. Playback helps alleviate any confusion.

    By Blogger Robin, At 2:18 PM  

  • One of my biggest lessons is not to force the moment. I find my kids share some of the best stuff at really odd times. Every time I try to control the time it backfires. I'm learning how to adjust my schedule to ride the waves when the kids bring them on. ;o)

    Holly's Corner

    By Blogger Holly, At 5:44 PM  

  • I'm hanging my head in embarrassment. I have gotten into the horrible habit of trying to multi-task while my children are trying to talk to me. Thank you so much for reminding me that I need to stop, look them in the eye, and actively LISTEN.

    By Blogger Tonya, At 11:23 PM  

  • #6, brilliant...nice post

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 12:19 AM  

  • Great advice.
    I think it's so important to wait until the kids are ready to talk - you don't want to force anything. I also try to help my son find his words. Sometimes he doesn't always know how to express himself. We've even tried drawing pictures and then telling a story about what he drew.

    By Blogger Brony, At 1:09 AM  

  • What outstanding ideas you all have! I really appreciate you sharing them and I've included some in my "comments of the week".

    Tonya - you're not the only one who's totally guilty of multi-tasking when she's supposed to be listening. It's one of my goals to practice what I preach on this point.

    By Blogger Pass The Torch, At 11:51 AM  

  • Ah, Kelly, I was just thinking I should e-mail you about this project, but I see you are already in on it as well ;). Great post!! Our how-to is up as well if you'd like to check it out!!

    By Blogger Mama Duck, At 1:08 PM  

  • Excellent post. You see so many people these days that never take the time to listen to their kids. The best thing I've found when spending time with mine is to just forget about everything else that you've got going on, and give them your undivided attention. You both get a lot more out of it that way.

    You might also be interested in my contribution to the Problogger group writing project: How To Take Great Photos Of Children. Hope you enjoy it!

    By Anonymous Darren Collins, At 7:57 AM  

  • My teenage daughter always wanted to tell me her detailed dreams in the morning rush. I tried to listen but they were very long and I had trouble following. Last spring I started including her on M-W-F for my early morning walks. Now she can tell me her dreams as well as anything else on her mind. And we both get exercise. Extra accountability helps. She often says, "We ARE walking in the morning, aren't we?"


    By Blogger Kim, At 1:44 PM  

  • Hey Kelly you rock! I love seeing surprise links pop up on other blogs. I'm working on encorporating this as well as formulating my blog roll because as I said a few days ago - it is SO nice "When Someone Cares!!" I really love the way you're spreading the love through a comments menu item! Clever girl. *wink*

    Thanks a million and have a great weekend!!


    By Blogger Holly, At 6:48 PM  

  • Yep, these are great for communication with anyone! Nice list.

    By Anonymous Olivia, At 9:38 AM  

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