How many parents have thought about taking a moment and listening to their child? If you have, how often have you actually gotten down to your child’s level and listened to his thoughts and ideas? It can be difficult for parents to find the time and energy to listen to young children, especially in times of conflict or stress. Even though we might spend most of our time directing or talking to children, listening is also an important part of communication. It a great way to help you understand how your child thinks and feels and encourages her self-expression and independence. By listening to your child you send the signal that her thoughts, ideas and feelings matter.
Different stages of your child’s development require different means of listening from infancy through the early years.
Infants typically need parents to listen to their cues and signals. It’s important to observe your baby and learn her expressions of anger, frustration and happiness. By learning your baby’s cues and signals you can respond quickly and appropriately to her needs. Infants learn from reoccurring experiences, as you consistently respond to her this in turn helps her feel secure in knowing her caregiver is available in times of distress as well as understanding that her actions cause certain reactions from you.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
At this age your child is developing more complex feelings of emotions as well as a burst of words to help express herself. Your child still needs your help in regulating these emotions and expressing thoughts and ideas. However, she’s also starting a stage of independence where her self-expression matters. It’s important to effectively listen to your child which in turn will foster her independence, self-confidence, self-expression and critical thinking skills. Here are a few practical tips you can implement.
- Talk about feelings: Acknowledge your child’s feelings when sad or angry, “I can see you are feeling sad”. Validating and respecting your child’s feelings is the first step to letting your child know that her independent thoughts matter.
- Offer comfort. Sometimes young children need to have their feelings validated but can’t express themselves yet. Just like infants, learn to read your child’s cues and signals and offer appropriate comfort when needed.
- Actively listen to your child: Listen to your child without interruption and let her take her time to express herself, younger non verbal children may need your help by asking questions about what happened or elaborating on their statements. Make sure you refrain from subjective statements, try to be as objective as possible when helping your child out. After your child is done make sure you understood correctly, restate your child’s thoughts as she stated them. This shows your child that you did actually listen to her point of view. Try to avoid judging your child’s opinion.
- Ask questions to get more information: “what happened” “How did you feel when he took the ball from you”. Follow-up questions help acknowledge your child’s feelings and help you understand how your child is feelings.
- Have your child propose solutions: In situations of conflict you can encourage your child to propose a new solution to the situation. This typically works best with older children who are able to express themselves easily and understand the concept of consequences. Remind your child of your general house rules and suggest she pose a solution. She may truly surprise you! If the solution conflicts with your house rules simply mention that and start over. Let your child carry out the solution and follow up with her if she feels it’s working out or not. If not, then discuss the reasons and go back to negotiating a new one. This strategy helps foster your child’s independence, self-help skills as well as learning about consequences and compromise.
- Try to avoid objecting to your child’s opinion too soon: Give your child ample chance to explain before saying No. If possible offer a series of questions that allow your child to reach this conclusion on her own.
Points to Remember
- Choose appropriate techniques for your child’s age and abilities. It can be quite frustrating for a 3 year old to have to come up with a solution or readily express herself using long sentences. This is behavior is more appropriate for a 5 year old. Try one or two word sentences and yes/no questions with your younger child.
- Try to find the reason behind certain misbehavior. Is your family going through a stressful time or significant changes? Moving, having a baby or starting school are all things that could cause your child to start acting out.
- Use simple language when speaking to your child. Your child might get lost if you use long and complex sentences. Try to be concise and to the point using simple words that your child can easily understand.
- Get down to your child’s eye level. This does wonders to the conversation. Your child feels she has your full attention and is more willing to communicate and listen to you.
- Offer choices. If things get complicated or you’re dealing with a young child, offering choices can be a good solution. Limit them to two choices to avoid confusion and make sure you can follow through!
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Great Resources on Listening
- PBS Parents
- Dr. Jane Nelson on Listening
- Mary Tamborski’s blog post: A mother’s real experience with listening
Picture from E>mar