Scientific studies show that most men aren’t as good at listening as women. Human males do not have the same neural connections between our brain hemispheres as females do, and this means some information we take in gets lost along the way. We really have to work hard at some cognitive skills, especially listening. And listening is essential to good parenting. As author Catherine Wallace writes, “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
Here are 10 ways to know you’re really listening to your kids:
1. Make listening a predictable routine
Most relationship skills evolve around habits—not just the bad ones but the good ones too. Get used to listening, family communication depends on it. Make yourself practice until listening to your children is second nature.
2. Try not to talk over your kids, yell when you don’t like what they say, or cut them off mid-sentence
Kids tend to give up on communication when it makes them feel badly. Monosyllabic utterances from teens can often be explained as simple self-defense.
3. The moment you come in the house, focus on your children
First things first. Hug your wife for a very long time, then sit down with your children, get on eye-level, and FOCUS.
4. When the kids come home, put down what you’re doing and ask a few questions
There’s typically a short window of opportunity to connect with a child’s recent experiences. That other stuff you’re doing can wait. Make it a tradition to sit together at the kitchen table while they tell you about their day
5. Listen with your eyes
Naomi famously told her father, “Daddy, please listen to me with your eyes.” He thought he could get away with checking his email while she told her story. She knew better.
6. Repeat back what children tell you
This way they know you’re following the story. “Let me get this right…you finished finger painting and then you ate your sandwich? That’s cool.”
7. Move beyond simple reflection
Ask questions that move the story along. “Tell me about the picture you painted.” “How did it make you feel when you struck out in baseball?”
8. If you’re a good listener then they won’t interrupt you so much
OK, this will sound counterintuitive, but think about it. If kids know you really listen when they talk, then they’ll be less likely to interrupt incessantly. They do this because they’re desperate for your attention.
9. Make listening a game
“Okay, now. I ask you a question, and then you get to ask me one.” The key here is positive expectation. “This family talks. It’s what we do…”
10. Listening patterns define family relationships
It’s not that complicated—your teenager is simply an evolution of a younger child. Raising teenagers starts with listening to them when they’re pre-teens. Listening is not only preventative maintenance; it’s a beautiful relationship builder.
Huddle Up Question
Do you think I listen to you? Why or why not?