Listening to someone, really listening, where you let them finish speaking before saying anything, where you accept their perspective without judgement and truly take the time to appreciate their situation, is rare.
It’s rare amongst conversations between grown-ups, let alone between parents and their children!
To be truly listened to by someone is a gift, and to be the one that is Listening, Actively, is a skill that takes practice. When someone takes the time to connect with us and really hears what we are saying, we feel valued and good about ourselves. Our self-esteem improves.
Our Highly Sensitive Children are living in a Western Culture that doesn’t tend to value sensitivity. Due to their natural propensity to notice things, they pick up on this sentiment which means they are in need of more help to create positive and enduring self-esteem. It is thought that a person’s self-esteem is set between the ages of 1 to 8 years. These are the childhood years where we as parents, carers and teachers, can have the most direct effect on the children that we care for. Yet, how many of us parents can hand on heart say we listen actively to our children? I am guilty of nodding at something my child is saying while sending an email or cooking dinner. Trying to multi-task isn’t conducive to building our children’s self-esteem!
When we Listen Actively, we are trying to understand our child’s complete message. We are paying attention to what is being said and how it is being said. We are paying attention to body language, voice inflection and our child’s overall attitude. Quite different from nodding and absent-mindedly saying ‘Aha’, while doing the dishes.
By mastering the ability to listen actively to our children, we are creating a caring relationship with them where they know they can trust us and will always feel safe coming to us with any problems – especially important in the teenage years. As an added bonus, our children will also learn how to listen to us, be more likely to form effective relationships and most importantly, build their self-esteem.
The 3 Steps to Listening Actively
- Focus your attention – stop what you are doing when you sense your child wants to talk to you about something important to them. Listen to their thoughts and observe their feelings until they are finished, using all of your senses. Notice their body language and how they are saying it.
- Paraphrase the thoughts and feelings that you heard back to them, without interpretation – simply repeat back what they said and what you heard. E.g. ‘You say that you hit Fred because he was ugly. You were angry with him. Did I get that right?’
- Be open to any corrections your child makes – ‘No, I meant that I hit him after he said I was ugly, and I said he was mean, and he made me cry. Why did he say that, Mum?’
By following these steps, it’s easier to get to the bottom of what actually happened rather than what you assume happened. Your child feels important and cared for because you have taken the time to actively engage with what they are saying. They will receive the implicit message that that their views and opinions are valued. All keys to building their self-esteem.
There are times when Active Listening is the best parenting tool you can use, but there are also times when you may want to do something different.
When to use Active Listening
- if you sense your child has strong feelings about something
- when you feel that your child needs to vent emotions, feel understood, or needs to clarify their thoughts by talking about them
- when you aren’t involved personally in the situation and you can stay objective
When NOT to use Active Listening
- sometimes your child needs information, and a simple answer is best. E.g.’What time do I need to be home tonight?’ is more effectively answered by ‘6 o’clock please’ rather than ‘You’re wondering what time you need to get home tonight.’
- when your child is in need of reassurance, praise or discipline.
- if you feel resistance and your child doesn’t want to talk. Just let them know that you are there for them when they are ready to talk
- if you have some investment in the outcome of the situation and are unable to separate your agenda from theirs
- when you are too tired yourself to give your child the attention they need. Be honest with your child, and let them know that you are too tired to focus on them at the moment, but after you’ve had a rest you will talk to them.
Do you want to know another great thing about learning Active Listening skills? We don’t have to save it just for our children…
Please share your experiences and questions about Active Listening by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear from you!