How to Tell if You are a Good Listener: 5 Ways to Become the Listener Your Child Needs

become a better listener

A little girl gets picked up by her mom every day after school. Today she is bursting to share the week’s events: the new math unit at school, the fight with her best friend, and that she won the game at recess. But as the girl buckles her seatbelt, already spilling all that’s on her mind, she looks up to see her mom holding up a finger, shushing her as she nods and “mmm hmms” into the phone at her ear. “I’ll just be a minute,” she says to her daughter as she covers the mouthpiece and puts the car into gear. The girl spends the car ride wondering when it will be her turn to get an audience with mom. New disruptions seem to come at every turn.

Listening to our kids requires that we pay attention. It means we seek to understand the messages behind the words—messages easily missed or misinterpreted if we don’t focus well. If you struggle to understand your child or feel frustrated by frequent miscommunications, the following tips may help you become a better listener.

1. Make and maintain eye contact

If your child wants to talk and you open your ears but keep your eyes glued to the pan simmering on the stove, it’s obvious your attention is divided. If you’re too busy to listen deeply then say so and let your child know when a good time would be to revisit the topic. But if you are ready to listen, dismiss the distractions and look your child in the eye. Resist the temptation when a new text or alert comes in. Focused attention tells your child they are important and worth the most precious of commodities—your time.

2. Ask open-ended questions

Although it takes more effort, asking questions that engage your child’s creativity and interests can open up their world to you. Instead of “Did you have a good day at school?” try “What made you laugh today?” or “If you’d been the teacher today, how would you have taught the lesson?” Not every conversation must involve deep delving, but if you consistently express curiosity about how your child experiences the world they will recognize you value their input. Here are some additional ideas to get beyond your teens’ one-word answers.

3. Listen for feelings

Children do not have the vocabulary or intellectual capacity to voice their complex feelings. Sometimes, instead, they just describe a scene. When my daughter shares a story of her interaction with a friend at recess, her tone of voice and body language help me understand her internal experience. She is not yet skilled at the art of summary, but that doesn’t keep her from sharing her ups and downs as best she knows how. When I identify disappointment, confusion, or joy in her demeanor, I can ask questions to help her sort through those feelings with me. Here are some other ideas for how to teach your children good communication skills.

4. Respond without words

Sometimes what a child needs most is simply to be heard. {Tweet This} Feedback is valuable, but quiet acceptance is too. Practice non-verbal responses next time your child shares an accomplishment or tells a story. A well-timed “Hmmm” or a quick intake of air to show surprise can acknowledge a child’s contribution without usurping the conversation. Allowing our children to speak freely, knowing they are heard without judgment or comment, is a precious gift.

5. Build in time to listen

In our desperate efforts to get from one busy day to the next, true connection is often sacrificed. Combat the rat race by scheduling time to connect with your child. Plan a Saturday morning donut date, a monthly day outing, or make a point to spend ten minutes every night just listening. More important than the time or method you choose is establishing that you are a safe person with whom your child can share and be heard.

What’s one thing you can do to make it easier for your child to open up to you?