Building a Healthy Family System
LISTENING & COMMUNICATION
By Pat Nolan
As parents, some times we make things too complicated. In fact, listening seems so simple that it’s easy to gloss over it as a parental skill and favor more exciting things like teaching moments, fixing problems, or making sure our kids listen to us. Parents regularly talk about wanting “good communication” with their kids and kids actually do want to talk to their parents. So if listening is the foundation of good communication, then let’s keep it simple and start there.
Benefits of Listening
Listening will go far, not just in hearing the conversation, but can help fortify other areas of parenting too.
- We can gather information about a child’s life and what’s in their head
- Listening builds strong relationships
- Listening thoughtfully shows respect
- Shows them you care and that they matter
- It is always the first step in solving problems
- Kids are smarter than most adults think – they pay attention and are aware. They will teach you how to raise them if you listen.
- A child who is listened to… Learns how to listen
What is Listening?
Listening is thoughtful attention. It is intentional, and most parents have listening skills. Sometimes it is a matter of putting them into practice intentionally so that you can be a role model for these skills.
We can be better listeners with:
- Direct eye contact
- Positive body language
- Paraphrasing/summarizing what is being said (“So you want to have more time on your ipad”)
- Reflecting the emotion of what they are saying (“Sounds like it hurts your feeling when your sister calls you names”)
- Show empathy (“I remember when my parents made me go to church”)
Just as there are good listening practices, there are also poor listening practices. I call these Listening Quicksand. Be careful not to sink into these practices!
- Cell Phones – when you look at your cell phone, you automatically make the person you’re talking with a second priority
- Interrupting – you are focused on just getting a moment to break in and say what you want, not listening to what is being said
- Wanting the last word – The focus is on you plus, the conversation will never end!
- Minimizing the conversation to avoid uncomfortable topics
- Teaching moment – Parents try to use every moment as a teaching moment.
- Problem solving- It’s hard to listen and “fix the problem” at the same time
- Showing lack of interest in the conversation
- Time constraints- shutting a conversation down because of time constraints, then never picking it back up.
Know what topics become “Quicksand” for you as a parent. These topics become great
“teaching moments” and even better conversation killers. What can you do to be a better listener with these topics?
- Video games
- Social Media
Rule of thumb for Listening
- If you are talking with your kids, make your contribution 20 seconds or less at a time.
- If the conversation is 70/30 (70% you talking, 30% them) then you are not listening. Reverse it.
- Don’t be afraid of uncomfortable conversations. These are ones that stick. Especially when you show respect by listening.
- Serious conversations are set up by all the small, seemingly innocuous conversations.
- Have fun with your kids in conversation. Laughter and joking make conversations and listening so much easier.
Encounter. Formation. Expression.
One of the things we talk about at Port City Community is the idea of Encounter, Formation, Expression. The basic concept is that what we encounter in life will help to form what we think and believe. What we think and believe will inevitably show up and be expressed in what we say and do. As parents, part of our job is to help our kids maneuver in a world that is ever changing and build a solid foundation in Christ. When it comes to listening and communication, we need to remember that what they encounter is forming who they are. When they encounter parents who listen with thoughtful attention, they will begin to know they are heard and what they have to say matters. It builds up their confidence, helps form their identity, and strengthens their relationship with you, their parents. When a kid opens a door to a conversation, don’t hesitate or be afraid, go in!! And remember to have fun with your kids, they’re pretty cool!