Become a Better Listener with Your Children

Listening is a key skill for developing understanding and trust with your child. Here are 5 ways you can improve your listening skills so you can be a better parent and always hear what your child is trying to tell you. 

Cheryl Butler
3-minute read

One of the most important, yet seemingly difficult, things we can do for our children is to be attentive listeners.  With so many distractions in our busy lives—cell phones that are on 24/7, work commitments, homework and sports practices, play datespet responsibilities, grocery shopping—we tend to multi-task our way through the day, often neglecting any quiet time to listen to our loved ones.

Becoming a good listener when your child wants to share something is key to fostering understanding and trust, yet many times we listen half-heartedly without even realizing it because we are simply in the habit of being too busy. 

Here are 5 ways you can improve your listening skills to really hear what your child is trying to tell you:

  1. Pay full attention.  When your child walks through the door excitedly calling your name, this is your cue to put down your magazine, turn off the TV, put away your cell phone or whatever else you might be doing, make eye contact, and say “You sound really excited about something—tell me all about it!”  Your child knows when you’re really listening, so make this moment count.  Not only are you connecting with your child by giving him your full attention, you’re teaching him what good listening skills are.

  2. Don’t probe.  If you sense your child wants to open up and tell you something, try encouraging her up by stating something that might reflect how she’s feeling rather than asking her to tell you how she feels.   “You aren’t as excited about getting the lead in the play as you were earlier this morning.”  Rather than “What’s wrong with you tonight?”  When you speak warmly instead of probing, she might open up to you because she doesn’t feel like she’s being interrogated.

  3. Take advantage of opportune moments.  Kids often open up more when we aren't looking directly at them. Your child may feel more comfortable talking while driving in the car, folding laundry or even when the lights are turned down in their rooms before they go to bed.  You can still be a great listener when you aren’t looking right into their eyes, and if that makes them feel more comfortable, you may get them to share even more with you.

  4. Stay quiet.  You may have the urge to chime in the minute your child starts to let loose and share what’s on his mind, but sometimes kids learn most from the opportunity to hear themselves talk and come to their own conclusions.  Resist the urge to lecture and simply make small comments like “Yes,” “I see,” or “Really” — this shows your child that you’re tuned in but not judging.

  5. Listen while validating.   It’s completely normal to want to fix whatever’s wrong in your child’s life, especially if it's making the child sad, frustrated, or afraid.  Kid’s need to have their feelings validated, not brushed under the carpet.  If your daughter's boyfriend has just broken up with her, don’t rush to say something like “You’re better off without him, you’ll find someone much better.”  Listen to her as she shares her pain and let her know you understand.  “It never feels good to have someone say they don’t want to spend time with us. It’s Ok to feel sad about this right now."  You don’t want to encourage wallowing in self-pity, but let her have a chance to share and then process her feelings, and once that’s happened you can jump in and try to cheer her up.

Listen and learn and other images courtesy of Shutterstock.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.