Listening to Young Children


Talking with your young child starts with listening.

If you really, really want to communicate with your teenager, the key just may be to start when they're a lot younger—say ten years younger. Of course, talking with a young child starts with listening. That conveys that he's important, provides a healthy model, and lets him know his dad is open to his ideas when he wants to talk.

And, dad, pay attention. Turn off the TV or radio. Let the machine answer the phone. Tune out other distractions. Face your child and look him in the eye.

Second, draw your child out by asking questions related to what she is saying. Of course, a question that she can answer with a "yes" or "no" will quickly end the conversation. In your question, try to use the same words or phrases that your child uses. That reassures her that you're listening, and helps build her confidence. Just avoid repeating her exactly; it could come across like ridicule.

Third, be patient, and don't interrupt. This is a tough one to master, because many dads want the bottom line, the Reader's Digest version. We can't stand to sit through stuttering or some quiet moments while a child thinks of the right word. But we can learn to be patient— it's a common courtesy, and we'd expect the same from them, right?

Fourth, help identify feelings. If your daughter expresses anger toward a friend, it's better to simply point out the emotion than to say, "You shouldn't talk that way about your friend." If you say, "I can see that you're really angry," you're acknowledging her feelings without making it a negative experience; she's more likely to keep talking to you.

Remember, we can't control feelings, but we can control responses. And it's much easier for a child to talk to an adult who accepts his feelings.

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