Listen up!














Listening is a skill we’re in danger of losing in our sound-bite modern world. Psychologist Dr Nicola Davies advises on how we could all become better listeners


Listen to your child


You would think that listening to your child was a fundamental part of parenting, but there’s evidence that many children do not feel properly listened to.


It’s crucial for children to feel able to express their feelings and be heard. It strengthens the bond between the two of you and encourages open communication. It helps children to develop social skills, promotes an exchange of ideas, thoughts and feelings, and builds self-esteem. Signs that suggest your child does not feel heard are:


They stop verbalising in the middle of a sentence.


They don’t make the effort to talk to you as often as they used to.


They get irritated frequently and demand your attention.


If you spot any of these signs, there are several steps you can take to make a change:


Set aside a quiet place and adequate time to listen to your child without any interference. Sometimes a walk works well.


Don’t be judgmental or critical.


Listen to them when they are experiencing strong feelings or a

problem. Be fully present during these moments. Turn off the

television, remove your phone from the room, and put down the newspaper.


Be open to listening to any and all kinds of feelings your child

may express, even if you don’t understand them.


Show interest in what they say. Give positive feedback by nodding, smiling and saying supportive words like ‘yes,’ ‘good,’ ‘I

see,’ and so on.


Imagine what you would have felt and how you would have reacted at that age.


Watch for their non-verbal behaviours – their facial expressions

and body language.


If you are not sure you have heard them correctly, repeat what you have understood. This gives them the opportunity to correct you.


Respond only when your child has stopped verbalising and

respond in a language your child can understand.


Avoid the ‘but’. Don’t oversimplify and undermine what your child

has been feeling by inserting ‘but’ anywhere. For example: ‘I understand you are feeling sad, but we will buy you another doll later.’ Instead, you could say: ‘This sounds as if it has really hurt you and you’re feeling sad.’


Dr Michael Jellinek, professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at

Harvard Medical School, says: ‘We live in a fast-paced world where

slowing down is hard.

‘So firstly, slow down, and secondly, remember to listen and consider for a while before immediately responding with your own advice.

‘Show you understand what your child is saying by repeating it in as clear a manner as you can. You can also relate how what the child is feeling parallels something you felt when growing up,’ he adds.



Making Taylor feel heard


Check out our vignette to see how you might be able to listen better.


Karen was cooking when her six-year-old son Taylor rushed to her, crying. He told her that his friend had not shared his new toy with him. Karen had to finish cooking dinner as guests were to arrive soon. She was tempted to go on cooking, while nodding her head as Taylor spoke about what happened. Instead, she stopped what she was doing, bent down to Taylor’s height, made eye contact with him and wiped away his tears. She said: ‘It seems like your friend made you feel sad when he didn’t share his toy with you.’ By saying this, she made Taylor feel heard and acknowledged. Taylor knew his feelings were important to Karen and gradually started to calm down.


Listen to your partner


Active listening skills facilitate effective communication within the whole family.

A key part of positive parenting is that parents communicate often between themselves about their children.



Listening to your partner helps to ensure you are both consistent in your behaviour towards your child. It also shows your child how healthy communication skills work. Here are some tips on how to listen to your partner about parenting:


Set aside a time and place, free from distractions, where you can talk to your partner about your child.


Differences of opinion are likely to crop up. However, before you

contradict, hear your partner out. Take turns to talk about your

thoughts and feelings rather than interrupting each other. Show

respect for your partner’s opinions and concerns even if you disagree.


Encourage your partner’ involvement in the parenting process. Don’t make decisions single-handed – check with your partner first.


If your partner is complaining about your child, hear him/her

out. Let your partner express his feelings. Listen actively while using encouraging comments like ‘hmm’, ‘yes’ and ‘I hear you’ to fill in the gaps and make your partner know that you are listening attentively.


Be mindful of your body language while communicating with your partner. Face him and nod to show that you’re listening. If you

find yourself distracted, say so and set another time to talk.


Ask open-ended questions to encourage your partner to describe

his thoughts and feelings. For example, ‘Tell me about…’


Sometimes your partner may not be upfront about something. Be mindful of his body language and facial expressions and draw him out by responding to them.


Give and ask for feedback to ensure that you are getting the intended message. Ask for clarification where needed.


Avoid assuming what your partner is thinking or feeling. Restate his comments in your own words and confirm whether you have understood the issue.


Dr Jellinek recommends setting aside 10 or 15 minutes morning or evening for parents to sit down and talk about what they feel is important. ‘See if any issues raised resonate with your own childhood experiences,’ he suggests.


Reaching a consensus on an issue of concern


This case vignette gives you some ideas on how to communicate with your partner about your child:


Ariel wanted to talk to her husband, Peter, about their five-year-old daughter Carla’s recent temper tantrum at school. She described the entire episode to him. Peter didn’t share Ariel’s concerns, but was patient and actively listened to what she had to say without interrupting, simply asking a few open-ended questions about the episode. From Ariel’s body language, he could understand she felt tense. He held her hand and reassured her verbally. He asked for clarifications and feedback where necessary. Ariel felt better after sharing her concerns with Peter. Together they came to a consensus about how to talk to Carla about the issue and their next plan of action.


Teach your child to listen


Children can struggle with listening as it requires a lot of attention and mental capacity.


They may appear to be listening to you while not paying any attention at all. It’s important to help children develop good listening skills early on.


Here are some tips:


Model active listening skills when your child is talking to you. This gives them a reference for their own listening.


Teach your child to maintain eye contact while listening.


Talk to your child as often as you can. This will not only develop

listening skills but also language skills.


Ask children to repeat your instructions to ensure they are

listening and have understood what you have said.


Read together and make it interactive. Make your child wonder about what will happen next. Ask questions to make sure children are listening.


Have conversations that interest your child. This encourages both listening and speaking.


Cook with your child. Let them mix and stir while you read the directions out loud.


Listen to audio books together. Sing or act along.


Play ‘story chain’ with one person beginning a story while others

contribute a sentence one by one. For younger children, ask them

specific details to help bring the story alive.


Watch a TV show together. Ask your child what the characters are doing and saying.


Go on a ‘sound hunt’. Ask children what they can hear. Listen to the sounds of the birds singing, leaves rustling, cars, the wind.


Play ‘telephone’. Hold your hand over your ears like a phone and

whisper something to your child to which they answer back.


Instructional drawing. You tell your child what to draw bit by bit,

such as ‘Draw a circle… make a sun…draw a mountain’.


Repeat after me. Say five words that your child repeats back in the same order. Make a fun game out of this.


‘Children will often do what their parents actually do (not say) so if parents listen carefully, children are likely to do the same,’ says Dr Jellinek. He recommends sharing and discussing an age-appropriate TV show or having dinner together as a family to share the day’s events, or parents taking turns on the school run. All these maximise opportunities to listen and communicate. Listening is an essential skill which offers a better parent child relationship, as well as lots of fun along the way!




July/August 2017

All information is correct at time of publishing