Communication is a key factor in any relationship, especially those with children. Active listening is a communication skill that can bring greater connection, clarity and understanding to build positive relationships with children.
Often when listening to children, adults may be distracted by something else, fidget, rehearse what they want to say in their head, interject before the child has finished talking/expressing themselves, or have closed body language. All of these things can cause misunderstandings and conflict, affect whether children may disclose sensitive information again and can damage relationships. Active listeners have the intent to listen to the complete message and its meaning by paying attention to what children are saying, how it is being said. It involves being aware of body language, voice inflection, overall attitude and the meaning of what children are saying to validate communication and help children feel supported and understood.
Why is active listening important?
By being active listeners, parents and carers can strengthen their communication and relationships with children by demonstrating interest, care and understanding. Some benefits of active listening for communication and relationships are:
Actively listening to children can begin right from when they are born, as it is important that parents and carers communicate with babies through understanding their cues and body language. By paying attention to a baby’s body language or non-verbal cues, such as understanding different kinds of crying or noticing how a baby moves when they are distressed, parents and carers can understand what and how a baby communicates. Eye contact, turning their head and eyes towards you or reaching out to you are some of the ways your baby tells you they want attention. Babies yawning, rubbing their eyes or jerking their arms or legs they are showing signs they are tired; toddlers and older babies might grizzle, cry and demand attention. Babies and toddlers can read body language too, for example, smiling can help a baby feel safe and loved. For more information on baby cues see Raising Children Network’s video guide.
Skills tips: What does active listening involve?
Active listening is a skill that can be learned and practised. It can mean different things in different cultures, with some aspects needing to be altered but active listening involves the following aspects that need to be practised over time:
Like any skill, active listening takes time and practice to develop but is very rewarding for parents, carers and children. It is not only a skill that can help support healthy communication and strong relationships with children, but also with other adult relationships.