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Middle Childhood » Communication

Easy Listening

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Brad Bryant
Executive Director

People Places, Inc.

A new version of this preservice curriculum for therapeutic caregivers is now available from People Places. It is,Parenting Skills Training: Teaching and Learning with Children in Care.

Most of us, children and grown-ups alike, enjoy it when others are interested in what we have to say and demonstrate their interest by listening to us. We could say that listening serves as a positive reinforcer (consequence of talking (behavior) and that a good listener can make talking a very enjoyable activity.

It is also true, however, that talking with others sometimes is not enjoyable, but frustrating or even irritating. This is so particularly when the person we are talking with does not listen well. Clearly, there is a big difference between listening well and listening poorly. As teaching parents, it is important that we be able to listen well to our children when we choose to have conversations with them so that such times are reinforcing to them and our attention can be rewarding and meaningful to them. It isn't always easy to listen to our children. Most parents are pushed pretty hard just to take care of the basic chores and necessities of daily life. We get busy and sometimes resent being interrupted or drawn away from what seem to be more "important" tasks at the time.

When you think about it, though, what is more important than spending time listening to your child and letting him know in that way that what he does, thinks, feels and says is important. Taking time to listen to your child and letting him know in that way that what he does, thinks, feels and says is important. Taking time to listen to your child is an investment in his self-esteem and in your relationship with him. Gerald Patterson, author of the book Living with Children, found that when parents whose children presented significant behavior problems took 10 to 15 minutes every day to listen to their children, those children made real progress. Listening, then, can be a powerful teaching and parenting skill.

Good listeners give others plenty of time "on the air" and demonstrate that they are genuinely interested in the "broadcast". Poor listeners, on the other hand, are so anxious to get their own "air time" that they can hardly wait for the speaker to stop talking so they can begin. Even if they don't actually interrupt the speaker, poor listeners will communicate their lack of interest by losing eye contact, fidgeting impatiently, and failing to respond to a statement either verbally or nonverbally. As listeners, we should try to make it easy for children to talk with and share with us. That's why we refer to this skill as "Easy Listening". It is listening that encourages and reinforces the child for talking and therefore serves to strengthen his sense of worth and his relationship with the listener.

The components of Easy Listening are simple and straight-forward. First, a good listener talks little and listens lots. Good listeners do just that; they do not put their own need for "air time" ahead of the child's by interrupting. Second, a good listener shows interest verbally (with comments like "uh-huh, "oh yeah?" "really?" "I see", etc.) and non-verbally (by maintaining eye contact, learning toward and facing the speaker, nodding the head, smiling, etc.). Third, a good listener asks questions about the speaker's topic of feelings about the topic (e.g., "how did that make you feel?"). A good listener does this without switching to his own topic before the speaker is finished. In this way, the listener shows interest both in the speaker and in what the speaker is saying. Asking questions does not mean interrogating the speaker, however. Good listeners avoid responses that may appear judgmental or critical. "Why?" questions often can be interpreted as judgmental and should be avoided for that reason.

Finally, a good listener only gives advice and opinions when asked for them. Even then, a good listener responds briefly and does not lecture. As parents, we face the occupational hazard of being too "quick on the draw" with advice and opinions,. Unwanted advice, like judgmental or critical statements, is a communication killer. When we are too quick to give advice and express opinions, we may rob children of the opportunity to think a situation or problem through on their own. Lectures generally are far more interesting to the lecturer than the lecturee. Sometimes as parents we must give advice or state our judgment or opinion when asked simply because the situation demands a clear value statement or guideline for our child's behavior. When we do that, however, we risk cutting off further communication (particularly with adolescents) and need to be selective and wise in our decisions to impose judgment and opinion. If our goal is to encourage communication and sharing, then we must be slow to judge and criticize and quick to listen.

East Listening Worksheet

Listening is a skill that is often overlooked as a parenting skill. The components of the skill, however, are simple and straight-forward. Use the list of skill components below to check off each component in the space provided below.

1._______________ Talk little, listen lots

2._______________ Show your interest (verbal;/non-verbal)

3._______________ Ask questions (avoid judgments)

4._______________ Only give advice/opinions when asked

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