When so much is happening during separation, being able to listen effectively so that your child feels heard becomes a crucial part of your everyday in divorce. Being able to communicate well with your child can help to strengthen the bonds between parent and child, teaches respect models appropriate listening skills as well as help to raise the confidence.
There are three parts to listening for you to be conscious of so that your child feels heard:
- Listen to what is being said and being attuned to hearing what is not being said
- Reading the non-verbal communication. Listen to the tone and pace in which your child is speaking. Are they making eye contact? Are there excessively long pauses? Is your child fidgeting and shifting uncomfortably?
- Following your intuition. As a parent, you know your child the best and you are more likely to sense when things aren’t right
By combining the above three parts of listening your child will feel better heard. Below are 21 tips for communicating and listening effectively with your child:
- Create time that your child knows that you will be present and listening to them. A time that they can talk freely without judgement. Dinner time, driving in the car and just before your child goes to sleep are common times that children want to talk and that you can be more focused on what your child has to tell you
- Try to be at the same level as your child, be still, be calm and remove distractions during your ‘talking times’
- Remember to keep your tone warm and inviting
- Maintain eye contact with your child so that they understand that they have your attention
- During this time, pay particular attention to what they are saying aloud as well as what their body language is telling you. The word “good” may refer to a host of other emotions like loneliness, anxiousness, concern and fear as well as feeling ok or so-so
- Look for what they aren’t saying – there may be a theme or thread that you can identify and help your child to explore their perspective on it. It could be low self-confidence, poor self-image, social anxiety or fear
- Stress the importance of honesty and communicating without judgement so that they feel secure and safe when sharing
- Refrain from interruptions until your child has finished talking.
- Refrain from jumping into problem-solving mode. There is more to learn and explore before assuming that you have the full picture and the solution for your child
- Don’t put words in your child’s mouth or prompt them for responses. This can skew and distract the child from what they are trying to convey to you
- When your child has finished talking, you could ask them “tell me a little bit more about that” and “really!” so that you get a deeper understanding of what they are saying to you without intruding
- Ensure that if your child shares something private that you respect their privacy and not share it with the rest of the household or your friends
- Ensure that if your child tells you something that you considered ‘wrong’ or that they shouldn’t have done, do not fly into a rage or put your child down
- When your child does share something that you aren’t happy or proud of, without anger or rage, appeal to your child’s empathy to understand the consequences on others or their choices
- If you do hear something concerning, ask some questions so that you can gain a fuller picture and understanding
- Commend and praise your child for feeling confident and brave enough to share something private or something that was concerning them
- Repeat back to your child (or paraphrase) what you understand your child has said and feels to ensure that you have the correct understanding. You could say “so, if I understand correctly, you feel … because …. Does that sound right?”
- Remember to use language that is age-appropriate to your child
- Work together to solve the problem. You might like to ask for suggestions from your child about what the solutions could be, assess the pros and cons of each option and then agree upon the most suitable solution to implement. Once your child has made their suggestions, you can add a few of your own
- As always, if there is a safety concern, reassure your child and let them know that you will have to talk to another adult to get some more help. They don’t need to know if it is the teacher, police or other person at this point in time
- Praise your child for being open and sharing with you.
No parenting is perfect. Often, we are so busy that your child wants to talk at the most inappropriate of moments. If you find yourself in this situation, be honest with your child. You could say “I want to hear what you have to say and I want to make sure that I give you my full attention. Would it be alright for us to talk about this after I have finished the food shopping? Then we can talk properly at home.”
Creating opportunities for your child to talk to your freely, without interruption and when given your full focus can help to strengthen the bonds between you (as the parent) and your child. By being available and willing to listen to your child, you may learn some very interesting, shocking or surprising pieces of information that you didn’t know about previously. Whatever your child shares, it will be something important to them. What is important to them, should be important for you to hear.