We like to think that we are good listeners when it comes to our children, but, are we really listening to what they tell us? Listening is more than just hearing the words our children say. In the first of this four part blog series we are going to look at the different types of listening there are, and how these can impact on your relationship with your child. The rest of the blogs in the series will then cover what is happening when our children don’t listen to us, and 4 key strategies to help you manage those behaviours.
A dictionary definition of listening is:
Listening is the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to, spoken and/or non-verbal messages.
Listening effectively is a whole body experience and is much more than just using your eyes and ears. Active listening uses all of your senses!
Why is it important to listen to your children?
The art of listening starts from when your child is a baby. During this time you are building the foundations for a loving relationship by attuning to your baby, by giving eye contact, holding and cuddling your baby. Your baby responds and communicates their discomfort through crying and through this you know when they need a nappy change, they are hungry, or they just want comfort with a cuddle. Their behaviour is their form of communication.
When you are not around to communicate with, children can feel disconnected and this is when other problems can start to show up like negative feelings, arguments and conflicts in the relationship as they get older.
By listening and creating a loving bond with your child, you are in fact modelling to your child the beginnings of how to have a good relationship. By listening attentively to your child, they are more likely to feel safe enough to share their feelings with you, and when we take the time to listen and understand what is happening with our children, we are demonstrating our love for them.
How to listen effectively
There are 6 steps to listening carefully and they are as follows:
- Stop what you are doing and provide your child with undivided attention.
- Get down to your child’s level, give eye contact and be non-judgmental – don’t minimise or trivialise their issue.
- Ignore distractions – read the non-verbal clues. Is your child angry, afraid, and frustrated?
- Think about what you have heard – respond to the emotions as well as the words at the right time.
- Ask open questions to gain clarity.
- Think about what you have heard – reflect back what you have perceived in the interaction to make sure you have heard and made correct meaning.
What are the 5 levels of listening?
Everyone who has children knows the scenario. Your child is telling you something, but you have a million things to do, putting the washing on, tidying the lounge, laying the table, cooking dinner. Whilst doing that you have your to do list running through your head. Your child is talking, but you aren’t really hearing them. You are pretend listening – sound familiar?
There are actually 5 levels of listening:
- Ignoring – Not listening to your child at all and you are distracted by anything other than what the child is saying.
- Pretend listening – You are distracted and your mind is elsewhere, or perhaps making an assumption you know what the child is going to say and start acting/responding before the child has finished.
- Selective listening – You only pay attention to your child as long as they are saying things you like/are interested in. If they talk about other things, you tend to slip back into ignoring or pretend listening.
- Attentive (or active) listening – You listen to all the words that are being said and using all of your attention.
- Empathic listening – This is the type of listening we should try and aim for. This is when you look beyond the words to the heart and feelings that lie behind the words. Be sure to preserve the dignity of your child and support their self-esteem.
Ask yourself honestly, what type of listening do you find yourself doing the most?
WHY do children need you to listen to them?
There are several reasons as to why it is important to listen to your children, and more importantly, WHY they need you to.
- Listening to your child builds a connection and trust that is the basis of building a loving relationship with you and it is the KEY to effective communication.
- It is also the bridge between you and your child’s hard wired need to feel a sense of belonging and significance.
- Belonging is about feeling an emotional connection and safety.
- Feeling significant is about their sense of autonomy, capability and feeling like they have some control over their lives.
Throughout their childhood all learning is done through modelling, so parents need to model and teach their children how to listen, otherwise messages are easily misunderstood, communication breaks down and both parents and child can get easily frustrated and irritated. If your child sees you only ever using selective listening or pretend listening, they will not learn the importance of being able to listen attentively, or empathetically, and this could impact on future relationships throughout their life. In addition to this, listening helps to create a safe environment for a child to want to cooperate to your request making for a more peaceful and harmonious relationship.