Three Steps to becoming a "Listening" Parent

Published 22 January 2019 at 20:09

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Three Steps to becoming a "Listening" Parent

Do you often hear your child saying/muttering one or more of the following often? 

  1. If you know what I am going to say, why do you ask me?
  2. I was not complaining. I was just telling you how I am feeling.
  3. If you do not want my opinion, why do you ask?
  4. It's ok. I do not want to say it anymore. It does not matter.
  5. Can you at least let me finish!

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Most teenagers feel that not only their parents but adults, in general, do not listen to them. Being a Coach for teenagers gives me numerous opportunities to hear their side of the story. When asked to further elaborate on why they feel so, this is what some of them have said:

1. We feel that adults think they already know what we want to say. They often interrupt us when we are talking. There are times when we feel they are not even listening. We hear a lot of ‘Hmms’ and ‘Mmms’ but because there is no eye contact or any other form of gesture, it feels like it’s going nowhere. Sometimes they keep looking at their work while we are talking. When we do the same thing, they tell us it is inappropriate. When these things happen, we just do not feel like sharing anymore and just give up trying to say anything beyond a few tractional words.

2. On those rare occasions when they do listen, they end up giving advice or solutions or a full half an hour-long lecture. We do not always approach adults for solutions. Most of the time we just want to vent out! One of them even went on to add that they restrict their answers to "yes", "no", and "don’t know" as it spares them the lecture.

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As a parent of two teenagers, I myself have been guilty of doing this, but the thing is, that when one is hard pressed for time and stressed out, it is hard to listen. Most of the time, we just assume we know what they are going to say. Let alone parenting, listening is a top skill needed in the business world and yet, one hardly finds good listeners.

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Some of the reasons cited for poor listening skills are:

1. Unlike reading, listening is done in real-time with a limited possibility of the words being repeated. In most cases, the listener can’t control the speed at which the words are spoken. Research shows that we speak at the speed of 150 words/minute, listen to 500 words/minute, which means it gives us 350 words/minute to tune out. Hence the reason why most of us daydream or wander off when someone is talking.

2. It is interesting to note that we spend 70-80 percent of our waking hours engaged in some form of communication. Research shows, of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Even though we are spending 45 percent time listening, unlike other forms of communication (reading, writing, speaking) there are no formal or informal forms of training to hone this skill. According to Ralph G Nichols, a long time (now retired) professor of University of Minnesota and author of the book “Are you listening” says “If we define the good listener as one giving full attention to the speaker, first-grade children are the best listeners of all."

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So that’s how hard listening is. Hard as it might be, when it comes to relationships, especially with children, poor listening leads to hurt feelings, loss of cohesion and bonding with the child. If it continues, it can weaken trust and communication further. On the other hand, when they feel you are really listening to them, they feel loved, valued and appreciated.

Listening to your child needs time, patience and practice and this is one thing that will really help strengthen your bond with them, irrespective of their age.

While training to be a Coach, listening was one of the main competency markers and as you can imagine one of the most difficult ones to hone. Your ability to listen to your client well makes all the difference between a good coach and an excellent coach.

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Here are three steps that I use with my teenagers which I have garnered through my Coach training and experience.

It has worked wonders for me and helped me keep communication and relations with my daughters open:

1. DROP: When they come to you to talk, do away with all forms of distraction. Ringing phones, pinging laptops to background TV. Everything needs to go. With teenagers, it is best to seize the moment when they are approaching you to talk. If for some reason, you can’t, it is better, to be honest with them and tell them by when you would be able to give undivided attention.

2. NOTE: When they are talking, just let them talk…uninterrupted. Instead of thinking, judging, or wandering away, pay attention to their tone, expressions and body language. These things tell you what their words won’t tell you. Also, look for words and phrases that keep repeating themselves in their monologue. Usually, that is where the main issue lies.

3. SUMMARISE: When you think they have finished, count five before you start talking. They might have paused for a breath. You really don’t want to interrupt their flow. Once they are done talking, summarise what you think they want to say and ask them if you got it right.

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In Conclusion:

We live today in an environment that has been coined as P.A.I.D environment ‒ Pressured, Action-addicted, Information-overload, Distracted. Because of this, multi-tasking has become second nature to us. But when it comes to parenting, it requires our full and undivided attention. Giving our children a few minutes, regularly goes a long way in creating a long-lasting relationship with them. Taking out time to do chores together, drive together or doing some activity together can help them to open up to you. Next time you are with them, just remember three words Drop - > Note - >Summarise (DNS).

By Shalini Bindal

You may like other articles of the author:

How to be a “Lazy” Parent

Making Conversation with People of Different Ages

About the Author:

Shalini Bindal is an ICF-trained, Certified Professional Coach. She does personal and group coaching for Career Moms and Teens. Before becoming a Life Coach, she was an HR Professional and Corporate Trainer. She also trains tweens and teens on Soft Skills including Public Speaking Skills, Assertive Communication Skills, Social Skills. A mother of two teenagers, Shalini has lived in India, Belgium and now in Hong Kong. Email her for a free 45-minute session (in-person or virtual)

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