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3 "Must-dos" for Really Listening to your Kids


Do you ever catch yourself turning into Robo-Mom with your kids? “Mom, can I have a…?”  And even before they’ve finished asking their question you give a programmed, “No!  Not now.  Just a minute.”  Basically, you’re a robot, just spitting out words without really thinking.  But be warned, if you “robo respond” to your children, eventually, they will “robo respond” to you – or not bother talking to you at all.

Sometimes we think we're a more attentive listener than we really are. Many times our attempts to listen are met with the distractions of cooking dinner, watching the television, or answering cell phone calls. Sometimes, we're even competing with our own thoughts, running over to-do lists in our head while our children are talking to us. 

In the book, Being a Great Mom, Raising Great Kids, author Sharon Jaynes gives some startling statistics: "Research shows that stay-at-home moms spend about 30 minutes a day conversing with their kids, and mothers who work outside the home spend fewer than 11 minutes. Now, if we assume that half of that time the parent is doing the talking, listening time drops to 15 minutes for stay-at-home mom and 5.5 minutes for the working mom." And to truly learn about your kids, you need to spend time listening to them.

1. Use Body Language. Subtle movements, eye contact and your body posture all contribute to active listening. If you continue working on cleaning the kitchen or have one eye on the TV while your child is talking, you are not communicating that what they're saying is important. By not giving them your full attention, you are saying, "I'd like to listen to you, but right now this is more important."

So even if the timing isn't the best for you, stop what you're doing and listen to your child. Occasionally give confirmation that you are listening, such as nodding your head or saying, "Mmm-hmm." You'll also want to make sure your body posture says that you are listening. Which do you think is more inviting -- sitting with your arms crossed, leg shaking up and down, while you emit the occasional sigh; or sitting comfortably, occasionally touching your child's arm or shoulder, and smiling when your child shares good news?

2. Pay Attention. Sometimes our kids just want someone to listen to them. Whether they are having a problem or they just want to share about their day, they want us to pay attention to what they are saying. While it may seem like common sense that active listening involves actual listening, many times we are only half-way paying attention. 

Sometimes it's just hard to focus on the ramblings of a four-year-old after we have had a stressful day. Sometimes we are preoccupied with our own worries and anxieties as we listen to our teenage daughter's emotional breakup story. But focus on what your child is saying. Consciously push aside whatever extraneous thoughts pop into your head whenever your children are talking to you. It takes discipline and practice to truly engage your brain in listening, but your children will notice the difference.

3. Ask the Right Questions. When your child comes home from school with a statement such as, "My teacher hates me," or "I'm mad at my friend," she needs you to respond with more than a grunt. She needs you to show concern by asking her good questions -- not ignoring her problem, responding with criticism, or by breaking her confidence by telling her story to all of your friends.

When asking good questions, focus on questions that will get your child to think and come up with her own solutions. Help walk her through the problem-solving process by thinking it through together out loud -- not by solving her problem for her and telling her what to do.

Questions are also a great way to encourage meaningful conversation that is not problem-related. Get to know your children -- their hopes, fears, dreams, and interests. Learn about what goes on in their daily lives. If you need some inspiration, find a book filled with conversation starters. Or print a free list at

Concluding Thoughts. As busy moms, we're used to multi-tasking throughout the day. We plan out our day while driving to work, we watch the news while checking our email, we talk on the phone while making dinner. But our children need our undivided, complete attention when they are talking to us. It may take a little discipline and practice on your part, but your kids need you to be an active, supportive listener.

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This article is based on the book, Being a Great Mom, Raising Great Kids by Sharon Jaynes.

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