Listening to children properly
Latest Posts • May 17th 2021
While there are numerous seminars where we learn to become good speakers, to argue skillfully and convincingly or to solve conflicts verbally, you can hardly find a coach who teaches you how to listen properly. And most parents do think about how they (want to) talk to their children, but hardly any of them think about how they listen to their children. And in doing so, we often forget to give children what we naturally demand of them: “Listen to me.” Because we know that no matter how great we are at talking, without listening there will be no successful communication, understanding, or comprehension.
The term ‘active listening’ goes back to the U.S. psychotherapist Carl R. Rogers. He first described it as a tool for conversational psychotherapy. Active listening refers to the listener’s emotional response to the speaker’s message.
We hear without much effort. We basically hear automatically. So of course we don’t miss that our child is telling us something, but WHAT it is telling us, we often only hear with half an ear in everyday life. Of course, we can talk to our child while we are sorting the laundry but sometimes we don’t like to be disturbed in what we are doing or sometimes we are already thinking about our answer while the other person is still talking. We can listen without actively listening. We can react to what is being said without really being involved. But in doing so, we miss important nuances. Of course, it is not always possible, but it is worthwhile, as often as possible, to actively listen to the child and thus to put ourselves in our child’s place, to show genuine interest without evaluating what is said.
This gives the child the experience of being taken seriously, of actually having something to say. And parents do themselves a favor with frequent active listening. Not only do we get to know our child better through active listening and give him or her self-confidence, but we also serve as a role model in the way we listen.
In concrete terms, this means that if I want my child to listen to me and take my words seriously,
I have to show him or her this appreciation first. I have to set an example for him to be a good listener.
Listen, don’t interrogate
Of course, there are also situations in which the child closes itself off from the parents and no longer wants to talk at all. This can have different causes – depending on the age. Younger children often close themselves off out of fear of punishment. An older child, on the other hand, from the experience that his arguments or his opinion is not heeded, his resistance is not tolerated. Or the child simply does not know how to express itself, to put its problems into words. If you try too hard to get a withdrawn child to talk, to subject him to a real interrogation, you will achieve little. The child will only practice more “defiant” silence or give the answer that he or she thinks the adults want to hear. But listening, as opposed to interrogation, can work wonders here. It may be advisable to accept the child’s silence at first and then take up the conflict topic again in a constructive conversation at a later point. In other words: no accusations but interested questions and active listening.
Really good listening pays off. It pays off twice: for us and for our children. And luckily, we can learn to not only become eloquent speakers, but also good listeners.
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