Really listening to someone is hard. Sound is always in the air around us, and because most of us are able to hear it, we think we know how to listen, simply because we have ears. That is categorically untrue.
Most of us grow up not knowing how to listen. Active listening is a skill that takes practice to master, and there is no more important reason and way to practice than listening to our kids.
Our children need us to listen to them. They are emotional sponges who soak in all the attention we can bestow upon them. A bonus for us is that they are often our best teachers. When we listen to them they let us know if they are alright, what they need, and if their world is working for their growth and wellbeing. What they say with words and sounds it very important for us to hear. And you don’t want to miss out on your child’s words. So often they are funny and entertaining, as well as wise beyond their years.
There are endless tasks for parents, and because of that, listening to your child takes time and planning. According to the American Counseling Association, attention and focus are crucial, and the main skills to master for active listening to be successful. You can hear when you’re making lunches or helping a child get dressed for the day, but brain research tells us that we are not actually very good at multi-tasking…even when we think we are. We are usually hearing at these times, but not listening.
Your child needs to see your eyes, needs to see that he is important enough to capture all of your attention, at least once every day. Our children need us to bend, kneel or sit down on their level for good, positive communication to have a chance. Many parents and grandparents do this at bedtime, when the work of the day is done and it is quiet. Sitting together in a chair or on a bed with a story in your laps is a wonderful time to focus on the child. She will feel important to you and worthy. (If the story is about them, as the StorieChild books are, that’s even better!)
Listen to your children. If you do that daily, they will be happier and healthier, and you will be more successful at creating a loving environment at home and in the world you are creating together.
Ann Sparling White, MS, LPC, NCC, is a Family and Children’s Professional Counselor and has worked with children for over 30 years.