I admit that I am a pretty ordinary listener.
You see by nature I am a talker and a fixer. Tell me a problem and I want to talk it through and find the best answer
for with you. It’s just how I am. Lately however I have had to work on stifling my first reaction – to talk and solve – and learn to do a better job of listening, of giving Immy especially space and time to talk and find her own answers. Which is not always easy for a fixer like me.
And it’s not only the fixing that can be the problem. There’s the busyness of everyday life and the myriad of demands on my time and attention and the distractions of technology, just to name a few. All this means that at times it is way too easy to be remote and distracted, or sometimes even offhandedly dismissive of my children’s efforts to engage me.
But I know that it is important to listen. To listen without fixing. To listen without judgment. To listen until small people have had plenty of time to form and articulate their thoughts.
To be fully present and listen.
So I have been working hard to remind myself why it’s important. Here are eight reasons I have come up with…
Reason #1: It strengthens the parent-child bond.
My Mum is still one of the first people I turn to when I need a shoulder to cry on or someone to vent to. I can go to her with ideas or problems or news or just to chat about the mundane of everyday and I know she will listen. I want my children to have that same feeling that they can come to me with anything at all and I will listen and be there for them.
Reason #2: It opens the lines of communication. And you want them open.
I think in many ways we are still in the easy years of communication with our young family (yes, even with a toddler in the early verbal stage of development). I expect that it is when my girls hit the tween and teen years that this reason will become even more important to our relationship. I want to know what is going on in their lives – the good and the bad.
Tip: If technology is distracting you from being present with your children, commit to regular technology-free time. Leave the computer or phone off until they are busy with other things or in bed.
Reason #3: It improves the likelihood that they will in turn listen to you.
When a person feels respected and appreciated, they are much more likely to respond in turn with respect and appreciation. And in this way, children are no different to adults. Connection is so vitally important to influence.
Reason #4: It helps to build self esteem.
Your time and your attention are valuable, kids know that, and by giving them your undivided time and attention they feel valued which is great for their developing self esteem.
Tip: Try to build regular one-on-one time with each of your children into your week. Immy has recently started joining me as I walk/jog for exercise on the weekends. We are both really enjoying this time together – in fact, just last weekend she chose walking with me over watching something on TV. Those that know her well know that my girl loves her TV time so this was kind of a big deal.
Reason #5: It helps them to feel understood.
It is important to listen with the intent to understand, not to reply (or to fix!) Asking a specific question in response to what they say lets your child know you are really listening, validates what they are telling you and hopefully keeps the conversation going.
Reason #6: It provides insight into their emotional state.
I was fascinated to read the research shared by Michael Grose about the connection between regular family conversation and anxiety and depressive illnesses in young people;
“The biggest single preventative factor for anxiety and depressive illnesses in young people is being in a family that has 5-6 shared meals together with the television and other communication devices off.” Read more here.
Tip: Eat together as a family as regularly as you can – remember it isn’t just dinner that counts.
Reason #7: It helps them to develop effective social skills.
Your attentive listening provides your child with a fabulous role model for the development of positive social relationships. They learn about the give and take of conversation and how good it feels to be heard.
Reason #8: Because kids have great ideas.
Children have great ideas and it is through talking through these ideas that many people (children included) are able to plan a course of action and make these ideas come to fruition.
Tip: Make some of your everyday travel time technology free for everyone, especially if you are travelling with just one of your kids.
What do you find are the best times to talk to (and listen to) your kids?