REALITY CHECK: A 2005 nationwide sample of 1,000 teens aged 12 to 19 were asked to assign letter grades to adults in 24 categories. More than thirty-five percent of teens surveyed gave poor grades (D or F’s) to adults for failing to listen and understand teens. How would your child grade your listening ability?
On a scale of one to 10 (one being the lowest and ten the highest) how would you rate your listening skills? Why did you choose that rating? What one little thing could you do to improve your score?
On an average day, how many total minutes do you think you spend attentively listening to your child? (Be careful: discussing chores, homework, messy bedrooms, or misplaced library books, don’t count). So add up those only the number of actual minutes spent attentively hearing your kid discuss things he cares or is excited about such as his thoughts, feelings, fears, loves, concerns, hopes, dreams, successes—“the personal stuff.” Your goal is to double that current number—or even triple it–by the end of three weeks.
Here are seven secrets from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions to help you listen more openly to your child (so in turn he listens and is more receptive to you) and improve your goal.
Listen during active times. Some kids (particularly boys) are more responsive to talking when they are doing something active. So find active things your child likes to do (fishing, kicking around a soccer ball, building Legoes, shooting baskets), and talk together. You may find your child is more conductive to talking. Hint: Boys are often threatened sitting face to face. Try sitting side to side.
Talk about your child’s interests. Also try tailoring the conversation around your child’s interests: her CD collection, his baseball cards, her Strawberry Shortcake doll, his Power Ranger collection. It might be a great entrée to a discussion about what’s really going on in your kid’s life.
Go to your kid’s zone. If you want some one-on-one talking time with your kid, then go to a place your kid enjoys: A mall, the batting cage to practice his swing, the golf range to hit a bucket of balls, a local malt shop for ice cream. You child will be more relaxed because he’s in his territory and just might be more likely to open up.
Ask specific questions. Kids get turned off by those generic: “How was your day?” type questions. If you want to invite conversations, then ask more specific questions: “Who did you sit next to during lunch?” “What story did your teacher read today?” “What game did you play in p.e.?”
Ask questions that elicit more than one-word responses. Make skillful use of your questions so that your child must respond with more than a one-word answer: “How would you have ended that book?” “What would you have done differently in the game?” “What are your feelings about…?”
Find the best time and place for listening. Research finds that parents can learn a lot about their kids en route to school and activities. Here are common topics parents say they either talk about or overhear conversations about that helps them find out more about their kids lives while in the car: school: 91 percent; children’s friends: 90%; values: 82%; extracurricular activities: 81%; chores: 69%. So now think: Where is the place where you and your kids have those great conversations? It’s the one spot you don’t want to give up on too quickly. (Hint: Mine was by the refrigerator around 5 pm each night. That’s the place my kids would start to gather and that’s the place I’d just conveniently place myself).
Mandate family dinners. If your home is anywhere like ours, sports, church group meetings, music lessons, and play practices used to constantly appear on the calendar, taking away from our “together time.” So we finally sat down and figured out the times no one had anything scheduled, and those were mandated for family dinners. If your family schedule is equally hectic, you may want to set aside specific weekdays for your family dinners. Don’t let anything interfere with your plan: family dinners still are the greatest place to give your kids your full attention and hear what’s going on in their lives.
For more specific tips on helping your child listen, help an impulsive child focus and tune in and to improve your relationship with your child refer to those specific issues in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
Portions of this article were adapted from her latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.