The Power of Active Listening in Family Relationships
Want a powerful way to boost your family relationships? Try listening! See what constitutes a good listener and how to foster great communication with your children.
Planned family meetings can work well to solve family problems, with various family members taking turns to jot down notes or minutes of the meeting, or merely to enjoy time together. Or you can select themes for those meetings, based on interests your family has or ones you wish to encourage.
- Try starting a family book club that meets once every two weeks.
- A family newspaper reading program will encourage your kids to read the newspapers. Ask each family member to select one topic that sparked interest, say in the Sunday paper, and elaborate on why they found the topic interesting, the areas they found great about the article and how they feel it could be improved.
- International family cook-outs can be another option, with each member of the family taking turns cooking something from another country and possibly sharing something about that country.
- Board games and puzzles are fun ways of spending time together. A table set up in an out-of-the-way corner of the living room is great for gathering family members to work on a large puzzle. The finished piece can later be framed to become a family masterpiece, but what can’t be framed is the hours of conversation you’ll enjoy working together on the puzzle.
- Be creative! Encourage your kids to come up with ideas of their own.
The Do’s of Active Listening
- Pay attention to the opinions of children and listen to what they have to say. It is amazing what this will do for relationships.
- Focus! Remember that this is the rule most often broken when it comes to listening. Be in the moment. Put other thoughts out of your mind. As much as you can tell when someone is really listening to you, your children can tell, too, if they have your undivided attention.
- Use body language. Leaning forward slightly, possibly bending down to the child’s level to make eye contact, a touch or hand on the shoulder are all listening cues that a child will pick up on. I find this particularly useful when my 4-year old twins both want to speak at once and I’m forced to have them take turns. I make eye contact with the child who’s speaking and touch the one who needs to wait for her turn.
- Be quiet! Another “elementary” rule too often broken is interruptions which will cut off your child’s train of thought, possibly discouraging him from pursuing the conversation with you. Let the answering machine pick up the phone, take the child to another room to complete an important conversation that’s being interrupted by siblings, give it time or, if that’s impossible at the moment, try to find another moment to resume the conversation as soon as you can.
- Conquer your defensiveness. If your child says something that sets you off, let it go for the moment so you can continue to listen to what he’s saying.
- Listen with empathy even if you don’t agree with your child’s viewpoint. Try to see the situation through her eyes, after all she is a person you like and respect, and this is probably something you would do for others without thinking twice about it.
- Ask “how” and “why” questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response.
- Try to share something of yourself when asking questions. This will help your child realize that you truly relate to whatever it is you’re discussing.
The Do Not’s of Active Listening
- Do not fidget or avoid looking at your child.
- Do not rush your child, making him feel he’s “botching it” or wasting your time.
- Do not get ahead of your child and try to finish her thoughts for her.
- Do not say: “Yes, but…,” as if you’ve already made up your mind before he’s done.
- Do not ask too many questions about details that will side-track the issue.
- Do not forget what was talked about previously.
Overall, remember to enjoy those special times with your kids. One day we’ll be the ones yearning for our grown-up kids to be listening to us, sharing our concerns and theirs with us. By listening now you are setting the stage for a long, fruitful relationship for the years to come.
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