Children are a mystery to parents, especially when they reach adolescence. You think you are listening, but you continue to run into heated arguments. You might be listening, but do you understand?
I was at the DG Mall Starbucks, tucked into my usual corner, having a latte, and my sense of calmness was cut short by a tiff between a mother and her preteen son.
It was the classic scenario of her telling him not to do something, and it quickly escalated to him accusing her of not listening or understanding before storming off.
From a distance, I could see the mother’s shaking hands cover her face and it was not hard to imagine how devastated she was.
This exchange of conversation between parents and their children are becoming more common. I have spent a fair amount of time in coffee shops, restaurants and public places to know a few common scenes are inevitable.
A family of four sits down for dinner, the first thing they do is take out their mobile phones and start their cyber journey. The waiter arrives but no one looks up as though they were there not for dinner. Somehow, dinner arrives but no heads look up. For the next forty-five minutes, not a word, nor exchange of eye contact.
This is only one of the many examples. In the example of the mother and her preteen, one of the main reasons for the breakdown in communication seemed to be that both sides felt they were not being heard.
There are two types of listening: one is passive and the other is active. Watching television or listening to music is considered passive listening as it does not require the listener to comprehend, retain or respond to what was being transmitted. Active listening on the other hand requires us to listen attentively and remember what we heard before responding.
Active listening is an important strategy for parenting skills because it will enable us to build a necessary communication bridge with our children.
It is of utmost importance parents know the fundamental needs of their children are to understand and to be understood. They need to believe their thoughts, ideas and emotional feelings are valued.
Comprehend, retain and respond are the three components of active listening. Comprehension is more than just understanding the content but paying close attention to non-verbal communication such as body language. It is during the process of comprehending the message from the speaker that the listener needs to retain or remember some key points. When the message is completed, the listener needs to be able to respond thoughtfully and empathetically.
How can we practice active listening at home with our children? There are nine techniques that we can use: smile and nod, eye contact, posture, avoid distraction, mirroring, empathy, remember small details, redirect the conversation and positive feedback or reinforcement.
Out of the nine techniques, smile and nod, eye contact and avoid distraction are the most important when we engage in conversation with our children. The purpose is to listen. By listening to their words, we can find the answers we want.
A family of four sits down for dinner, the first thing they do is take out their mobile phones and start their cyber journey.
Try this next time your chld wants to tell you what he or she did in school:
Step 1: Reply in delight. For example, “Mommy would love to hear what you did in school today.” Mirroring what the child said tells them that you understood what the message was.
Step 2: Put away everything you are doing, including the email you are in the middle of typing or the WeChat message you are sending. The point is to give your undivided attention to your child, and your child will do the same next time you want him or her to listen to what you have to say. For example, “Let daddy put away his computer and his phone first so he can listen attentively to you.”
Step 3: Be engaged – but I must emphasize that in this context, engage does not mean replying or asking questions. Engage means to listen attentively without interrupting and without asking questions unless your child asks you. Engage also means you look at your child as he or she speaks – eye contact is vitally important.