The Art of Listening Well
“My child never listens to me.”
Ah yes, that old chestnut.
It is a common complaint among parents and we feel very frustrated and disrespected when our child doesn’t seem to heed our well-intentioned advice.
So far in this series we have discussed the ways in which anxiety can manifest, the role we play as parents in helping our children, the way our physical environment can impact us, and the importance of connection.
Now we come to my favourite part. Giving you concrete examples of how you can connect with your child in order to have that strong foundation on which all else is built.
To start we are going to look at active and reflective listening. It is a powerful tool for connecting with anyone and strengthening all your relationships.
So what does it mean to really listen to someone?
Active and reflective listening means we give another person our full attention and presence, so that they feel seen, heard and understood.
It may sound too simple, but it’s one of the most common and powerful tools that therapists use. If you’ve ever been to a psychologist you know they do a lot of listening!
Often people aren’t looking for a fix. They just want someone to listen and care so that they can feel validated and able to move on without further guidance.
Child: Muuuuum, I was using the ball and then Sally took it away.
Mum: Oh, Sally took the ball while you were still playing with it?
Child: Yes and I want her to give it back. She’s always taking my things without asking.
Mum: You really want her to give the ball back and you are upset that she often takes your things without asking.
Child : Yeah
Mum: Mmm I can understand why you are upset, I would be too if someone took away my special things without asking.
Child : Ok, bye. (Child runs off happily to go sort out the problem or moves onto something else.)
What just happened?
I didn’t say anything other than reflect back how she was feeling. I didn’t offer solutions or tell her to stop over-reacting. I just listened and that was enough.
The real problem wasn’t the situation, the child was just wanting a little connection and to be heard. This was enough to get her brain back online so that she could think clearly again.
You might be laughing right now thinking “That would NEVER work with my kids. They’d just keep whining or coming to me with every little problem. It would just make everything worse.”
You may also be thinking that all this listening might create kids who are taddle-tales or who can’t sort out their own problems.
But I’ve found that they are actually more independent and better at conflict-resolution once they’ve had lots of opportunities to practice these skills with your guidance.
They have no need to dob on each other anymore because they now have the skills to listen to each other, sort out their own problems and come to a mutually satisfactory solution. Much of the time when children tell on each other it’s not to ask for help, it’s because they want the other kid to get in trouble. If you stay neutral, and help them work things out together with no punishments or blame, they are much more likely to try sorting things out themselves rather than coming to you all the time.
And yes, perhaps they might “be worse” and come to you more a short time. When kids aren’t accustomed to being heard they might start wanting to tell you about every little thing. They’ve been wanting you to listen to them for years and now they finally have your attention. It’s like being really thirsty and needing a big drink of water. Once you’ve had your fill, you can go without for awhile and then only need smaller drinks from then on. But the time spent now will pay off and help your child learn a vital skill that will benefit them for the rest of their life.
Your relationships will be strengthened, your connections deepened and your child much more likely to listen to your advice in regards to their anxiety or any other challenges in their lives.
And the bonus is that you will say “They don’t listen to me” a lot less as they will know how to listen respectfully to you just like you do for them.
Want more info on how to be a great listener? We’ve put together a free poster for you which you are welcome to view or print. Click the link below to access.