Teachers and parents know that children love to talk and share about their experiences. Whether it’s about their latest toy or a dream they had or a disagreement with a classmate, children can sometimes seem like an endless font of emotion and information about their inner worlds. 

Research shows that actively listening to children and validating their experiences is important for their emotional, psychological and social development. 

“Listening” sounds like an easy, intuitive task, but it is actually a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. At times we may think we are listening well to our children or students, but may not be giving them the type of attention and care they are seeking 

Here are three ways to be a better listener to your children: 

  1. Give them your full attention. Even small children can tell when you’re distracted by your phone, your task or your thoughts. By giving a child your full attention when they are speaking to you, you are signaling that what they have to say is important. If you don’t have the time to fully listen to your child or student, let them know and set a boundary such as “I can only talk for 10 minutes and then I need to make dinner,” or “I’m having another conversation right now, but I can listen to you when I’m done.” 
  2. Don’t try to fix the problem right away. Often when a child is venting or sharing their pain, they don’t want an immediate solution. Many times they are looking for a listening ear and some empathy instead of a fix for their problem. To be a better listener, try reflecting back what you heard your child say before you jump to solutions. This also allows you to validate your child’s uncomfortable emotions (such as sadness or pain) instead of immediately prompting them to feel something different. 
  3. Try listening for underlying needs. When listening to your child or student express themselves, try hearing what is between the lines. Track both the content of what they are saying as well as what the content says about their deeper feelings and needs. Perhaps in expressing anger, your child is stating a need for respect or personal space. Work with your child to understand the needs underneath their emotions so you can build a strategy to meet them.