In order to make your child feel truly heard, seen, and understood there is more to listening than “just” listening. In psychotherapy this is called active listening. Active listening is an essential skill in therapy, and parents can develop their own style of active listening to further deepen the meaningful relationship with their child.
See below some suggestions how to demonstrate active listening when talking to your child:
1. Be fully present — When your child is talking to you, put aside any distractions and give them your full attention. Avoid multitasking or looking at your phone, and make eye contact to show that you are engaged.
2. Body posture — Make sure you turn towards your child, lean in when something is interesting and have an open body posture. You can also nod or show with your facial expressions that you are listening.
3. Listen without interrupting — Give your child the space and time they need to express themselves. Sometimes this can take a while. Try to avoid interrupting them mid-sentence or finishing their thoughts for them. Wait until they have finished speaking before responding. However, if they do seem completely stuck you can try and make suggestions. Make sure you check back with them that your suggestion is truly what they mean. E.g. “Is it possible that you mean …. Or is it something else?”
4. Validate their feelings — Let your child know that you understand their emotions and that their feelings are important to you. Repeat back what they’ve said to you to show that you are listening and to clarify any misunderstandings. E.g. “So you are saying that … Is that right? Ok. Yes, I can understand that you feel …”
5. Ask open-ended questions — Encourage your child to share more about their thoughts and feelings by asking open-ended questions. These questions prompt your child to provide more information, rather than simply answering with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. E.g. “What do you think? How did that happen? Is there more you want to say?”
6. Tone — ‘Why’ is another great open-ended question BUT only if your tone is curious, rather than judgemental. ‘Why’ can be a loaded word so make sure that your child understands that they don’t need to defend themselves when you ask the ‘why’ question.
7. Show empathy — Really do try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and understand their perspective. Imagine how you would have responded / what you would have needed, if the same thing had happened to you when you were as old as your child is now. Validate their emotions by acknowledging how difficult or challenging the situation may be for them.
As parents we often try to jump to problem-solving with or for the child. But first, we have to RELATE to what they are saying before we can REASON with them. Often, after you have shown enough listening and understanding the child will themselves move on to the reasoning part of the conversation.
Imagine you came home from work and needed to complain to your partner about the dreadful day at work you had. What if they jumped straight to saying, “Well, next time this happens, why don’t you do …?” Instead of saying, “Oh. I’m sorry you had a rubbish day. That does sound stressful.”
By practicing active listening, parents can foster even stronger bonds with their children and build trust, respect, and understanding. It helps parents to better understand their children, identify their needs, and respond more effectively to their concerns. It also models healthy communication skills that children can learn from and apply to their own relationships. As a result, children who feel heard and understood are more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with their parents, leading to a more fulfilling and meaningful relationship.
I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch should you have any questions or would like to discuss some aspects further.
Lukas Dressler (he/him)
Counselling Psychologist (MSc.)
HCPC Registered No. PYL041915
Integrative Psychotherapist (MBACP)