Building Parenting Skills: Listening
If you are feeling you are not communicating appropriately with your child
then there is possibly some dose of truth in it. One of the things psychotherapists do when working with parents is to firstly discover the reason(s) behind the problem. When the parent becomes aware, then they can actually start making some changes about it.
Possible reasons for having a poor communication with your child so far:
Child's limited attention span
Maybe your child has not yet developed its full attention span. This might imply that when you are talking to them, they get easily distracted with their surroundings or with their needs and wants. Attention span develops with time and practice. But you need to take into consideration the context that surrounds the child when you are trying to have a conversation with them. Places with distractions, or times of day when they are over stimulated or too tired should probably be avoided if you opt out for a child-to-parent qualitative conversation.
Maybe you do listen, but you fail to get into your child's shoes. Do we acknowledge and understand what the child is saying to us; its needs and desires? Or are we too quick to dismiss it with another instruction or a disagreement? Feeling and expressing empathy is a key skill not only for our child but also for all human interactions.
What is your communication style?
Is your communication style mainly characterized as being critical, nagging or judgmental? One way to find out is either to ask your spouse to give you their opinion on your communication style, or video/audio tape your self during a day when you are having a conversation with your child, and assess yourself. If we find ourselves being critical, nagging or judgmental the majority of the time, then it is most likely that our interaction produces negative feelings in the child (anger, sadness, disappointment, fear etc.) The child naturally will want to avoid these feelings therefore they will develop mechanisms to do that: and that is to ignore the parent or to distract themselves.
Are you speaking to your child in a lively manner?
Your tone of voice could be coming out a bit boring to the child. This is not the same as being a boring person, but maybe you are picking times to talk to your child when you are the least energetic.
Again, opt our for some feedback from your spouse if you feel like your tone of voice is coming out a bit monotonous when talking to your little one. If you 've ever watched a successful kindergarten teacher telling stories to children, it's simply mystifying; every single child is hanging by every word they say. If you look closely, you will notice one thing: Their tone of voice never stays the same and neither does the volume! They alternate between high and low frequencies, while simultaneously using plentiful facial expressions in order to catch the child's underdeveloped attention span.
Your child can predict what you are about to say
The child assumes what the parent wants to say so they do not bother listening. This implies that the child can predict what you will say and under what circumstances. Try and surprise them every now and then. Try something different, such as remain silent when they expect you to burst out or reflect on what you are about to say and use your imagination to say it a bit differently!
Last but not least, maybe you are not really listening to what they are saying or vice versa. Listening is a skill, which means it can be developed or mastered at any stage. However, it is needless to mention that the earlier the training the better the results. Pick times when your child is not distracted, possibly during bedtime or during the evening snack and work on it. You can improve their listening skills in numerous ways:
5 tips to improve the delivery of your message through your child's listening skills.
1) Reading: While reading a bedtime story to your child, prompt them to ask questions or even comment on what you say. You may also ask them to repeat what you just said or even ask them to predict what will happen next. If you want to make it even more fun, then you can ask them to enact the story with their toys!
2) Have a conversation about a topic that is interesting to your child: This may result into a purposeful and fruitful conversation for your child giving them the opportunity to both speak and listen about something that is interesting to them.
3) Do an activity together or play a game that involves instructions: This activity could be something fun and engaging, such as to ask your child to help you in the cooking. You, the master chef, could read the recipe to him in order to listen and follow your instructions, step by step to complete the recipe correctly.
An idea for a game can be the following: The whole family gathers around and the rules are explained. The idea is that the family has to make up a story together as a group. Each person has to input a sentence or two and then the next person has to continue adding a few more sentences and the story is made up as you go along. Have it themed around something that your child finds fascinating, such as describing a kid's trip to Disneyland. This way the child has to attend and listen what the previous member has said, in order to build upon that.
4) Model the listening you want your child to have: If you want to model active listening then look at your child directly when he talks to you. You can repeat back what your child is saying in order to ensure you understand. Always remember the children learn best through imitation, copying their parents' behaviors.
5) Allow your child to complete what they are saying: If the child is often interrupted when they communicate with us then we are modeling that it is OK to interrupt us when we talk. If you give them the opportunity to finish what they are saying, then you are modeling patience and respect towards the person you are having an interaction with.
The above is only to be used as a guide to help you i) discover what might be the reason(s) if you are feeling that you are not communicating to the maximum potential with your child and ii) how to make a first step towards helping your child to build effective listening skills. There are no golden rules, since some things might work for some parents while some will work for others. But if you do not put the effort in it, then you will not know what does work for your child. Stay tuned for more useful ways to improve your communication with your child.