How Active Listening Builds Your Relationship with your Child
Many parents seek the assistance of a child behavior psychologist in Littleton to help with issues of anxiety, learning, attention, behavior, or mood. While many factors can affect these various issues, underlying it all is the relationship between the parent and the child. Is it strong enough to provide a safe base for the child to support his or her environment? Hardy enough to withstand trials, tantrums, and teenage years? Even those parents who are not seeing problems in their child’s academic performance or behavior often ask how they can build a closer relationship with their child. A great tool to improve your relationship with someone of any age is active listening.
What is active listening?
Active listening is a conversation tool that is similar to mindfulness, in that it asks the listener to give 100% of his or her attention to the speaker. Sounds easy, right? Don’t forget, this includes both obvious attention (not playing on the phone, washing dishes, looking over work), as well as mental attention (thinking about the shopping list, wondering if you had finished your task, wondering about the future). It involves not just listening, but demonstrating with your verbal and nonverbal communication styles that you are listening and that the speaker’s message is truly being heard.
How do I do it?
1. Check your environment. Are there distracters? Get rid of them! Phones are the biggest, but TV, movies, music, and household clutter can distract if you let it!
2. Check your body language. Remember how you were taught to give speeches as a child? Use this same method! Face your speaker, maintain eye contact, and keep an open posture—no turning your head away or crossing your arms over your chest.
3. Listen like you mean it. Listening does not include thinking of what you will say next. Listening does not involve making judgments or accusations. Listening does not include trying to “one-up” the speaker with another story. Just listen.
4. Check your understanding. To show your speaker that you are listening, and to make sure you heard it right, try summarizing what they just said back to you. This is a tool that play therapists in Littleton use to help children express their true feelings. You might find when you say “it sounds like you are really angry about that group project that you got a bad grade on” that your child will refine it, saying “I’m not angry about the project, I’m angry at my friend who didn’t try very hard. He let me down.” Your child will realize that you are listening and seeking to understand fully.
5. Reflect and respond. If you listen well, the last step is easy. Is your face mirroring the speaker’s emotions? Are you responding appropriately to needs? You don’t always need to “solve” or “answer” problems—just hearing them can be enough.
Why does it work?
Just like adults, children have big ideas and they need to be heard and listened to. Sharing these thoughts and feelings helps to process them, and knowing that someone truly understands it makes it easy to handle. Even better, when you practice this sort of active listening you can help your child to build social skills and communication skills that will make them a better listener in the future. For more tips on communicating effectively with your child, set up an appointment with Dr. Lazarus today!
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