Active listening is an important skill for parents, helping us hear and understand what our children are telling us and also ensuring they know that they are valued, heard and understood. It can improve your communication and relationship with your child as well as well as reassure your child of their value.
How to practice active listening
When you listen don’t interrupt. Let your child speak at their own pace allowing them time to express themselves.
Reflect – repeat back key words and phrases, to demonstrate that you have been listening but also to give your child the opportunity to hear their own words and reflect on them. They may wish to change their minds about what they said as this gives them this opportunity.
Show that your listening using verbal and nonverbal indicators. Using ‘umm’ and ‘ahhh’ can show you understand, as well as using your facial and body expressions.
Summarising is a good way for you to show you’ve understood the main points.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Silence can be a moment for both of you to reflect and feel what’s been said.
Eye contact whilst listening helps build trust and confidence.
Ensure your child knows that you’ve valued and appreciate their openness
Where and when to listen
Ideally somewhere quiet with no interruptions and where your child feels safe and secure. Somewhere free of distractions is ideal, but some children prefer to have the radio on in the background or may open up on a car journey home from school. Try and tune in on where they feel safest to open up.
However, as much as we want to help our children, it may be that they feel reluctant to open up to their parents, if this is the case, don’t put too much pressure on them to talk. Instead reassure them that when they’re ready you will be there for them and also remind them that there are people at school (tutors, pastoral team, school counsellor etc) that they can talk to or there are excellent organisations such as Childline and Young Minds. Some of these offer text message support as well as phone support.
Telephone: 0800 1111
Confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law.
Telephone: 0300 123 6600
Me and My Mind
Advice and support for young people struggling with unusual experiences, such as hearing voices.
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
Support and information for children and anyone worried about a child
0800 800 5000 (for adults concerned about a child)
0800 1111 (18 or under – Childline helpline)