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Communication 101: Why and How to Listen to Your Kids

“Why isn’t she LISTENING to him?!” My son was truly upset by the mother’s insensitivity in the podcast we were listening to fill a long car drive. It was true, rather than hearing her son’s concerns, she was dismissing them and accusing him of imagining events that weren’t really happening. If she’d listened to him, truly listened, she would have realized that her son was hurting deeply, regardless of whether his imagination was running away with him. But she didn’t have time to listen, much less encourage him or help him find a solution, so she dismissed the problem along with his feelings. Too often, this is my temptation, but I learned a long time ago that if I want my kids coming to me for the big stuff - dating, sex, drugs, friendships, spiritual doubts - I need to make an effort to listen when they share the things that seem small in my world.

A few weeks after the upsetting podcast, the same child knocked on our bedroom door late at night. He needed to discuss a rather stressful situation he was encountering with a friend. He was worried and couldn’t sleep, so he was asking for help. But more than help, what he actually needed was to be heard and known. In that moment, I knew that our choice to listen to him over the years had paid off.

But how do we listen well? In the counseling world, there is a tool we use called active listening, which fights against some of our natural human tendencies to fix, judge, or react to what others are saying. This is actually very biblical if you look at James 1:19, which says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” There is a whole formula for active listening and it can feel pretty rigid and unnatural, but we can simplify it by employing the use of two questions any time our kids come to us with concerns, big or small. The first question is, “What I hear you saying is... (summarize what they’ve told you), is that correct?” This helps them feel heard and gives them an opportunity to verbally process what they are experiencing and how they are thinking and feeling about it. The second question is really more of a statement, and it is, “You said… (insert something they said that you found interesting or need more information about). Tell me more about that.”

Of course, you may want to ask other questions such as, “What are you thinking and feeling about that?”, or “When you say ______, what do you mean by that?”, and you’ll want to tweak the wording to fit the situation, the age of your child, and your own preferences. But these two basic questions help us seek to understand our kids before we go trying to solve their problems or lecture them on how they should be interacting with the world around them. They help us gather more detailed information about our children’s friends, school and world, and about their personalities.

So, your action step for this week is, when your kids bring a problem to your attention, no matter how trivial it seems to you, ask these two questions:

  1. “What I hear you saying is... (summarize what they’ve told you), is that correct?”

  2. “You said… (insert something they said that you found interesting or need more information about). Tell me more about that.”

And remember, no fixing, judging or reacting!

Need more help? Book a free Discovery Session here to find out how my Flourishing Home Framework can help your family flourish. Subscribe here to get your free guide “Ultimate ADHD Resource List”.

The content found on Flourishing Family Coaching’s website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding ADHD, anxiety, depression or any other medical conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.

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