active listening

“You’re not listening to me!” …try active listening instead

I was having a ‘conversation’ with my 13 year old that was slowly quickly escalating into an argument. He raised his voice so I could ‘hear’ him and said “you are not listening to me”. ‘What do you mean I am not listening to you’ I thought. ‘I am doing all the right things. I have given you my attention. I am sitting at your level looking you in the eye. I am hearing what you are saying and I am responding’.

So my first response was “You just don’t like what I have to say”

This didn’t really appease him, so I decided to really let him know I had heard him by repeating what he said. By again looking him in the eye and calmly repeating to him his concerns and my concerns and how our opinions were differing.  I then finished with the sentence “Have I got that right? Is that why you are upset?”

This simple summation and question allowed him to see that I was hearing him and it allowed us to go forward in order to work on a solution. It ensured I was actively listening.

Of course this is not going to be the last time I have an argument with my child. It is not going to be the last time we have to agree to disagree but still come up with a solution. It will not always end as peacefully as this particular argument did in the end. But its a good formula.

If kids don’t think we are listening, if they can’t sense that we are hearing things from their perspective, then we risk running into the the “us versus them’ scenario. And this we know never results in any winners.

So next time you feel a confrontation brewing, or an argument where you are accused of “not listening”, try thinking about this.

Clarify their point of view with a question. For example:

“So you want to go to the party on Saturday night and you think that I should let you go because you will promise to have completed all your homework and all your friends will be going?”

Understand their feelings by summarising how they are probably feeling. For example:

“You are upset and frustrated with me because you think me not letting you go is unfair because all your friends are allowed to go and you will feel left out?”

“Is that correct?”

Once the child has acknowledged you understand their point of view you can then add whatever other reasons you have for not wanting them to go to the party.

By doing this the child knows that even if they still don’t like the end result, they can be assured that we really did hear the points they wanted to get across to us.

When listening to our children effectively it is also important that we don’t talk over the top, and that we don’t finish their sentences. When we do this we get in to a situation where both are struggling to be heard over the other. And so of course that means both getting louder and louder until both are incapable of hearing anything!

Here are some other points to keep in mind when your child needs you to listen:

  • Stop what you are doing, or tell them you will finish up something and be right with them
  • If it appears to be something important to them, put down a phone, turn off a TV or turn down the radio so they know they have your attention
  • Get down to their level, they don’t need you talking down at them
  • Look them in the eye
  • Wait for a pause in the conversation before responding
  • Look for non verbal cues too about how they are feeling

It is only normal that you are going to have moments of disagreement with your children. Especially as they get older and begin to push boundaries and seek greater independence. It is also only normal that you may not get it right every time. But if we can be a little more conscious of what our kids are hearing from us, we have a far greater chance to get it right in the future, keep arguments from escalating out of control and continue to keep the lines of communication open and the connections strong.


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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I was recently accused by No.3 child that I was not listening. It actually shocked me because I wasn’t really listening and I didn’t think he noticed. I felt horrible but it was lucky that I heard a few words and could work out what he said. I must try this advice Marty so I don’t get caught out again

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yes I think we have all been guilty of that Nat! x

  2. I get down to my kids level all the time now. Miss 7 is having lots of catty girl issues at school and lots of these points will help our convos. Thanks x

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Hope it improves Em, I’m sure you are doing all the right things x

  3. Great points… I’m about to have some of these conversations and – very unusually – three kids told me last night they don’t want to go to school. Electricity was off yesterday so I can see their points!

    I have many ups and downs with my teenagers and always try to switch off from everything, and get away from the other kids. Staying calm is key – the teens won’t so we must. Medals for all parents.

    PS I think he should go to the party!

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Seana! Saying calm is definitely the key!

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