Active listening: what it is and why it’s good

Active listening is a skill that you can use to improve your communication with your child. It’s more than just hearing your child – it’s tuning in to your child’s thoughts and feelings.

By using active listening, you can strengthen your communication and improve your relationship with your child. This is because active listening shows your child that you care and are interested. It can also help you learn about and understand what’s going on in your child’s life.

With active listening, you don’t have to talk too much. In fact, the less you talk, the more opportunities you give yourself to understand what your child is saying. This can take the pressure off you to come up with answers and solve problems, and it also makes it more likely that your child will ask you what you think.

Talking with you is good for your child’s thinking processes too. It can help your child to think more clearly because it gives them the chance to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment or correction.

1. Give your child your full attention

When you give your child your full attention, you send the message that your child is the most important thing to you right now. It tells your child that you’re available and interested in what they’re thinking, feeling and doing.

Here are some tips: 

  • Get close when your child is speaking.

  • Use eye contact to show you’re listening.

  • Use non-verbal language to show you’re listening – for example, turn towards your child, and keep your arms uncrossed.

  • Turn off the TV, and put your mobile phone and other devices down.

  • Bring your mind back to what your child is saying if your thoughts wander off.

2. Let your child talk without interrupting

You can do this by not saying things or asking questions that break your child’s train of thought.

It also helps to concentrate on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you’re going to say next. This will help you work out what your child is trying to tell you and why.

3. Show your child that you’re interested

There are many ways you can do this. Just nodding your head and saying things like ‘I see’ and ‘That sounds hard/great/tricky ...’ are great ways to start.

When there’s a pause and you can say something without interrupting your child, you can ask questions that show interest. For example, ‘And then what happened?’.

4. Summarise your child’s words and feelings

This is a key step in active listening, because it shows that you’ve been paying attention and you’re trying to understand.

Try repeating what your child is saying in your own words. For example: 

  • ‘Let me see if I’ve understood. You’re feeling angry because I didn’t talk to you before making plans for this weekend’.

  • ‘When Karthik did that, you felt upset because you thought he liked you’.

When you’re summarising, it’s best to avoid making judgments if you can. For example: 

  • It’s judgmental to say, ‘You want to stay out too late’.

  • It’s non-judgmental to say, ‘You want to stay out until midnight’.

Often when you use active listening and repeat back your child’s words, it’s like an invitation to say more, because your child feels heard. It can encourage your child to explain further or say more about what they’re thinking.

©, translated and adapted with permission