If you feel like your kids hardly listen to a word you say, take heart. Children and teens ignoring their parents is a universal problem as old as parenting itself. But before you put all the blame on your offspring, consider whether your listening skills could stand to be improved. Try these six tips for improving your listening ear:
1. Stop multitasking and pay attention.
Our brain doesn’t have the capacity to fully attend to two things at once, so it’s difficult to listen well when doing another task that requires your attention. Doing the dishes and helping a child with homework? Sure. But scrolling Instagram while listening to your daughter explain her school project? It’s likely you’ll miss important details. “It’s really important that we select moments of the day where we close all those tabs we have open in our brain,” says Julie K. Nelson, an applied parenting instructor at UVU and author of two books on parenting, including “Keep it Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood” (Cedar Fort, March 2015). “We need to say to our child, ‘Right now, you are my world.’ Half listening will not build trust or confidence in coming to us when they need to talk.”
2. Take it one kid at a time.
Do your best to listen to one child at a time. If interrupting and talking over each other is a problem at your house, Nelson suggests telling your kids that you are going to listen to all of them but only one at a time. “Put your arm around the child and say, ‘I’m here for you but right now we are going to listen to Stacey first and it will be your turn next,'” she suggests. Give them a physical cue, such as holding their hand or putting a hand on their shoulder, to let them know you see them but give your full attention to the child speaking. If a child whines or demands attention, ignore it as best you can. “When you are finished listening to one child, turn to the other child and say, ‘Thank you for being so respectful. Now it’s your turn.'”
3. Listen on their level.
Adults appreciate eye contact during an conversation, and kids are no different. Nelson suggest talking to kids at their level for the most effective communication. “If we do want to get a child to listen to us, it’s so important there is not an imbalance of power. At your full stature, children don’t listen to you when they are looking at your navel.” Younger kids appreciate when you get down on one knee to hear and see what they are saying. For teens, try sitting on a couch to chat.
4. Go on sabbatical from offering your opinion.
If it’s a challenge to keep your mouth shut when you should be listening to your child or teen, try this challenge: For one week, resist the urge to offer your opinion unless expressly asked for it. Listening with the intent to simply listen, instead of listening with the intent to reply, Nelson says. “When we do listen to someone we should be very careful that we don’t try to finish their sentence for them or come up with a rebuttal or response,” Nelson says. If they do ask for an opinion, let them know you’ll think about it rather than jumping in with your expert advice.
5. Practice active listening.
If you need to clarify what someone is saying, repeat what you heard back to them. Try, “What I’m hearing you saying is this; is that correct?” Let the speaker validate whether or not you got it right. Then continue listening without judgment or fixing. Most of the time, people just want to be heard.
6. Quit topping the story.
If your child is complaining about their struggles at school, it can be tempting to hijack the conversation with stories of your childhood success or examples of what other siblings have done. They don’t really need to hear about everything you did when you were a kid, Nelson says — even if you’re commiserating — they just want to you listen to them. So stop topping their stories and simply offer yourself as a resource. “Tell them, ‘I’m sure you’ll come up with a great solution to that.’ Empower them … let them come up with solutions on their own. They need to know you’re not the higher power in their life that always sweeps in and solves things,” she says.