The Art of Listening to Build Your Child’s Emotional Health

Everyone, adult or child, likes to know they are being heard.

The simplest way to reach anyone’s heart, especially your child’s, is to be receptive and respectful of their feelings. This means we need to listen with compassion, even when time is short or we feel like we know what they need to do. 

When they come to us with a dilemma, or they have made a mistake small or large, listening first is the best way to model compassion, courtesy, and respect. In the following thoughts, you will see how this is helpful when working with our children even if we may not agree with them. Listening is step number two in “the art of companioning”.

Listening helps you first

When you take the time to listen to your child, and their viewpoints, you are exposed to thoughts and feeling that you may not have considered before. Sometimes you may not like what you are hearing, you will be learning new things by listening. This helps expand your mind to be more accepting of their thoughts and understanding feelings.

Listening Helps You Develop Patience

As previously mentioned, being able to sit there and listen to something you may not agree with or you know you have the answer too, is difficult. You will have to have patience. And if you haven’t already developed the necessary patience for this task, just the practice of listening more often will help you to develop it. If you find you are struggling with the task, try to remember you are listening to learn something new. You can also listen with curiosity helping you to see where you need greater understanding. This will help you focus on the words and what they are saying more carefully.

You Expand Your Relationship

People love when others listen to what they have to say, it makes them feel important, even our children. When you take the time to listen to your child, even though you may not agree with what they are saying, you make them feel heard and understood. And this can help you connect with your child in a new way.

The Top Five Traits of a Good Listener

We mentioned that becoming a good listener is the second step in the “art of companioning”. The first step is asking an open ended question like, “What is happening?” Open ended questions allow the other person to speak from their heart. Then we need to listen with patience.

When listening to your child, we want to show empathy, but do so without taking on their feelings. In other words the key is not to over or under react to what they are saying. When a child is willing to open up to us all they really want is to be heard. Here are some ways to be that great listener.

1.    When listening to your child, your goal should be to understand their point of view. Listen to everything they say before forming your own opinion or asking probing questions. , You do not necessarily have to agree with them, just understand them. Everyone deserves, and should form, their own opinions on various topics. 

2.    Paying attention is the next trait. If you don’t pay attention you will miss out on important information, or even physical cues. Always be aware of what is going on with the person who is speaking, and don’t forget to pay attention to their clues. Notice if they are holding their stomach or if you see tears. These are signs that can be furthered explored.

3.    The action of making eye contact with the person who is speaking, shows them that you are paying attention. If you start looking around you, you are giving them the impression that you are not interested, or have become bored. 

4.    Your goal as you listen is to support, not rescue, distract, or advise. Your child has the capability to come to answers for their own situation. As a parent, when you listen in this way – and use the “art of companioning” – you are teaching your child to look inside themselves and find their awareness of the best answer. 

5.    Allow the person to finish talking. A young Maltese priest once said, “When you think you have been silent enough, be silent a little more.” This often takes a little patience, but it can be helpful for both sides. First the person has time to put their thoughts together and can vent their opinions, frustrations, and feelings. Many times as they speak a child is also measuring your response. They do this, to decide how much more information they are willing to give. Then of course, using your patience helps you to fully understand the issues. 

A good listener will also think before responding back. Sometimes parents have the trait of speaking before thinking or hearing everything, and this can lead to all kinds of awkward or difficult situations. To help your child or the other person the most, calls for asking questions that zero in on the feelings. These many times feel like general questions, but they are intended to help the child “empty their cup”. 

It is perfectly normal for your brain to want to respond quickly. Stop yourself and think before you speak! When you do ask questions, ask what and how questions and eliminate the why questions. Most of the time none of us know why – we just know how we feel. Until the child believes we know how they feel, they will not be willing to give other details.

Now the simple things we all know. It can be hard to stay focused on a person, it is normal to want to look away, especially if they are taking a long time to express themselves. If you find yourself doing this try nodding to the person or making direct eye contact with them. This signals to them that you are paying attention. Other tips that you might want to use to show that you are paying attention include: 

·      A simple verbal expression

·      Use facial expressions

·      Use body language

If you make an effort to put these five traits into play consistently, you will become a much better listener for it. Your relationship with your child will grow stronger, as will their emotional health.

Later this summer I look forward to releasing an online course titled “Virtues & The Four C’s of Successful Families”. One of the C’s – Communication – is where we will be going in great detail on companioning our children so they discover their wisdom and discernment that is in line with individual family values and vision. 

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