We like to think that we are good listeners when it comes to our children, but, are we really listening to what they tell us? Listening is more than just hearing the words our children say. In this blog, we are going to look at the different types of listening there are, and how these can impact your relationship with your child. We will give some helpful tips on how you can improve listening skills for you to better support children in the household. The rest of the blog will then cover what is happening when our children don’t listen to us, and 4 key strategies to help you manage those behaviours.
A dictionary definition of listening is:
Listening is the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to, spoken and/or non-verbal messages.
Listening effectively is a whole-body experience and is much more than just using your eyes and ears. Active listening uses all of your senses!
The art of listening starts at the early stages of a child's life, as a baby. During this time you are building the foundations for a loving relationship by attuning to your baby, giving eye contact, and by holding and cuddling your baby. Your baby responds and communicates their discomfort through crying and through this you know when they need a nappy change, they are hungry, or they just want comfort with a cuddle. Their behaviour is their form of communication until their language skills develop.
When you are not around to communicate with, children can feel disconnected and this is when other problems can start to show up like negative feelings, arguments and conflicts in the relationship as they get older.
By listening and creating a loving bond with your child, you are in fact modelling to your child the beginnings of how to have a good relationship. By listening attentively to your child, you encourage children to feel safe enough to share their feelings with you, feel valued, and when we take the time to listen and understand what is happening with our children, we are demonstrating our love for them.
There are 6 steps to listening carefully, and to ensure you develop listening skills and they are as follows:
Everyone who has children knows the scenario. Your child is telling you something, but you have a million things to do, putting the washing on, tidying the lounge, laying the table, cooking dinner. Whilst doing that you have your to do list running through your head. Your child is talking, but you aren’t really hearing them. You are pretend listening – sound familiar?
There are actually 5 levels of listening:
Ask yourself honestly, what type of listening do you find yourself doing the most?
There are several reasons as to why it is important to listen to your children, and more importantly, WHY they need you to.
Throughout their childhood all learning is done through modelling, so parents need to model and teach their children how to listen, otherwise messages are easily misunderstood, communication breaks down and both parents and child can get easily frustrated and irritated. If your child sees you only ever using selective listening or pretend listening, they will not learn the importance of being able to listen attentively, or empathetically, and this could impact on future relationships throughout their life. In addition to this, listening helps to create a safe environment for a child to want to cooperate to your request making for a more peaceful and harmonious relationship.
We've already discussed the different types of listening and how these can impact on the relationship we have with our children. We've also looked at the reasons behind why our children don’t always listen to us, and discovered that this can often be because they are looking for our attention. In this next section, we are going to look at what is happening when our children don’t listen to us.
Listening to your child creates a bridge between you. When your children do not listen to you, it is because the bridge is broken. If a child feels controlled, or forced to do something, they will often resist, reject and do the opposite thing you ask. Children can literally feel the break in this connection with you and it can cause them to be very upset, sometimes because they may not be able to verbalise how they are feeling, which can lead to a low self esteem.
The break in connection is an inbuilt safety mechanism in our brain – the fight or flight mechanism – in a way, it means we are wired to oppose or run away to avoid pain.
Think about a child being given sweets by a stranger in the park. We tell our children to be wary of strangers and so when approached by a stranger we want them to resist so they will either run away or put up a fight, this will keep them safe. We as parents however, are not strangers, so why do our children resist our requests in the same way?
It is easy to forget that a child does not yet have the internal resources or emotional regulation to modify their behaviour. Their brain is still developing and they will develop behaviour problems just to get your attention and to feel a connection with you. Even negative attention to them is attention – they are just looking for a connection.
Children will be more motivated to the thing that gives them pleasure; their computer game or watching TV for example, rather than doing their homework or coming down for dinner. That is, until you shout at them! When children trigger a reaction such as this, they are communicating to you that they need you to intervene.
At this point, a child needs guidance, but what do parents do?
They discipline their children! But what does discipline really mean?
In the past, and still to some extent today, when people think of discipline, they think of punishment and giving consequences. This behaviour can make a child feel helpless and imprisoned with no choice and obedience tends to be of submission, rather than willingness to cooperate. This can mean that children are not engaged, or fully understand why they are complying other than to ensure something they don’t want to happen, happens. For example “Come and put your shoes on or you can’t play on the tablet later.”
In the past when I have asked children that I have worked with how they felt when they are punished for not complying, these are some of the feelings they have shared:
We don’t want our children to feel this way, or to carry these feelings with them into adulthood. The latest research tells us that actually this way of disciplining can be counterproductive to learning and emotional growth.
Take a minute to think about things like this:
The root word for discipline is disciple and disciple = being a student
Therefore to discipline (should) = to teach!
If we think about what we are currently ‘teaching’ our children when we offer punishment for non-compliance, we are not helping our children understand why they need to comply with our requests. As discussed, we must teach our children by modelling our behaviour to them. In order to change the way our children react to our requests, perhaps we need to first change the negative perceptions we have of discipline. Rather than viewing discipline as punishment, instead view it as an opportunity to teach and create a more positive environment for yourself and your child.
Every journey is different and there is no “one size fits all” path to transformation. I want everyone to feel acknowledged and validated, so I always invest the time to understand your unique situation, to build trust and create a safe space for us to successfully work together.
Together we will build a trusting relationship and create a safe space for your child to make sense of sad, angry, painful, and confusing feelings and thoughts towards more agreed positive outcomes.
Asking for help is not a weakness! We all encounter difficult times at some point in our lives due to societal norms, our culture, upbringing, and our own expectations. Talking to a trained professional will make a huge difference to your health, happiness, and productivity. I offer psychotherapy treatment for people of all ages, gender, and backgrounds.
When someone in the family has a mental health problem or illness, it affects the entire family’s dynamics and behaviours and sometimes parents and other family members don’t really know how to support them…or themselves. Can you relate? A happy and connected family is possible and I can help you to bridge the gap from frustration to fun.
In the hustle and bustle of parenting, parents often underestimate the impact of praise and social rewards, like hugging their children. It's easy to overlook those moments when children play quietly or complete tasks without fuss. This blog post shares 7 practical ways that parents can effectively praise their children.
Research has highlighted the profound impact of parental involvement in play on a child's psychological well-being. Play isn't merely a frivolous pastime; it serves as a powerful tool for nurturing a child's emotional resilience and fostering a strong bond between parent and child.
40% of students experience exam stress and anxiety. It is real and I see it working as a school counsellor. This blog post will share some ways for children to manage that exam stress.
Parenting is a journey filled with challenges and triumphs. In this wonderful yet demanding role, it's crucial to cultivate a positive mindset to effectively nurture our children's growth. Here are seven principles encapsulated in the acronym NURTURE that can serve as a guiding light to help you to respond rather than react.