Why Listening to Your Children Really Is a Game-Changer

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 01/12/21 •  16 min read  •  Preschool » Preschooler Boundaries

Listening to your children is probably the most underutilised parenting tactic out there. 

You think I’m joking, but I’m not… I’m serious! 

Listening to each other is a gift that parents often ignore in the early years… but it can cause SERIOUS problems down the line if you don’t establish a healthy, respectful open line of communication from day one.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! That’s why you’re here learning about the GAME-CHANGING art of listening to your children & that’s why I am sharing this article with you!

Let’s start with a common agreement. We all want our children to listen.

BUT… The truth of the matter is… 

If you want your children to listen to you, then you need to learn the art of listening to your children first.

And this is your superpower as a parent. Used wisely, your relationship with your child will remain open, honest and respectful for years to come.

I love listening to young children.

What they have to say can be enlightening, charming, funny and thought-provoking as we get to see the world from their perspective. 

So, as a parent, we should embrace the opportunity to see the world through our child’s eyes and what better way to do this than to listen to what they have to say.

The Importance Of Listening To Your Children’s Voices, Views And Opinions

Listening to your children when they are young will lay the foundations for a mutually respectful relationship where your child will feel able to talk to you about their feelings, both positive and negative, in a safe and loving environment throughout their lives.

Listening will instil in them a sense of self-worth and trust and show that you care about how they feel and what they are trying to say to you.

NOTE: The act of listening and paying attention to your child will make them feel valued and it will help to build their self-esteem. 

7 Reasons Why You Should Really Listen To Your Children

  1. It boosts your child’s self-esteem
  2. Makes children feel valued and heard
  3. Your listening teaches them how to listen
  4. Builds a strong bond between parent and child
  5. Listening teaches mutual respect
  6. Listening builds trust
  7. Gives children the opportunity to talk about their feelings and ideas

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help you and your kids develop healthy listening skills from an early age so that you will both benefit from mutually respectful listening as they grow.

And to begin with… 

If you want your child to listen to you then you must start by listening to them. 

As I always say, as parents we need to lead by example

Teaching the art of respectful listening is no exception and that’s why we must learn the art of active listening…

What Is Active Listening?

A textbook definition of active listening requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

Therefore, active listening is a perfect way to show your toddler that you are listening to them. 

When actively listening to your child, get down to their level, make eye contact with them and take interest in what they have to say. 

Once they have finished talking, repeat back to them what they have told you so that they know you have understood them.

TOP TIP: Active listening ensures your child knows that you have taken an interest in what they have to say and as a result, it will help build the bond between you both.

The benefit of active listening when your child is young is that, if you keep open, safe and engaged communication going, your child will not feel awkward or too scared to talk to you about bigger things later on in life.

Why Active Listening Is Difficult

As parents, we have a tendency to not fully listen when we are being spoken to by children. 

We think we know everything our child will tell us and we, therefore, stuff our brain full of thoughts that don’t always need to be there, such as ‘what do I need to prepare for dinner?’ or ‘I need to get back to doing my emails!’ when our child is talking to us.

As a result, this can make active listening tricky for some people. 

However, I really encourage you to invest in your listening skills and engage with your kids.

As I mentioned earlier, not only is listening to children enlightening, charming, funny and thought-provoking, it also allows you to slow down, be present in the moment and enjoy your child’s company.

Below are some of my top tips to becoming an effective listener when with children. 

How To Become An Effective Listener With Children

1. Let Them Take The Lead

When your child is talking, it is important to wherever possible, let them take the lead. 

Try not to rush the conversation and jump in with your own words unless absolutely necessary to prevent frustration. 

By allowing them to set the pace, you will ensure that they feel heard and unhurried, especially as toddlers may take a while to get their point across. 

A gentle hint or help along the way is fine if they appear to be getting frustrated.

2. Use Age-Appropriate Encouraging Language

As they talk to you, answer back with age-appropriate language and expand gently on what they are saying to you. 

When playing together try and expand their language by saying things like ‘shall we put the red wooden block on top of the yellow block?’ rather than ‘shall we put the next block on top?’. 

Ask them what block they would like to put on next and encourage them to tell you what they are doing.

Using positive language when listening is also important. 

Saying things like ‘that is great’ or ‘that is really interesting’ or ‘please tell me more’ are all positive recognition signals that you are paying attention and listening to what they have to say or show you.

3. Make Them Feel Heard

Another important point to remember when you listen to your toddler is that they have a very short attention span, so situations can very easily escalate if they feel unheard. 

I am not suggesting that you always drop everything whenever your child wants your attention, but you should at least acknowledge that you have noted their request and that you will either act promptly or offer them an acceptable solution to waiting for a while. 

For instance, when your toddler interrupts, you can say ‘I know that you want me to come and help you and I will come shortly but first I have to finish folding the laundry’’. 

Now… & this is the important bit… 

If you use this tactic, what you say should be said with your full attention, at their level and not over the shoulder without eye contact. 

TOP TIP: When delaying talking to your little one in order to finish a task or conversation… It is very important that you follow through with your promise relatively quickly to not distress your toddler to the point of a meltdown.

This is so that, as time goes by, they learn to trust that you have heard them and that you will do as you said.

These situations will help to teach toddlers the value of being listened to and it will help them to learn how to listen to others too.

4. Read Body Language

Not all listening involves words.

Observing your toddler’s body language can also be useful in understanding what they are trying to say and what they are feeling. 

Their facial expressions will help you understand what they are trying to get across and your non-verbal communication, such as smiling or holding out a hand to help, will show that you are engaged and listening to them.

5. Get Down To Their Level

When talking and listening to a small child it is important that you get down to their level. This gives the signal that you are fully engaged in what they have to say. Conversations had with words floating over their heads will not have the same impact and indicate that you are not fully engaged.

6. Make Eye-Contact

Along with getting down to their level, making eye contact with your child is equally important. 

We all know what it feels like if we are talking to someone and their attention appears to be somewhere else or they are constantly looking at their phone. Children will feel the same lack of participation if you are not fully focused on what they have to say. 

TOP TIP: A few seconds of eye contact and sincerely said words can make your child feel heard and cand often divert a potential tantrum or feelings of frustration for your toddler.

This is especially important if you have to explain that you hear what they are saying but they have to wait a while before you can deal with it.

7. Listen To Their Ideas

Children are explorers and creative by nature. They need to learn how the world works. Just because from experience you know how things work or can be done efficiently often means that we have a tendency to step in and fix things. Try to step back and help your kids work out what they are trying to say or achieve.  

You may be surprised at what they have to say. Sometimes we could all do with learning to look at the world again from a child’s point of view. 

Examples Of Conversations Between Parent And Child

Here are a few examples of teaching your children how to listen and understand etiquette around talking and listening to others.

Saying things like ‘that is great’ or ‘that is really interesting’ or ‘please tell me more’ are all positive recognition signals that you are paying attention and listening to what they have to say or show you.

“I know that you want me to come and help you and I will come shortly but first I have to finish talking to Grandma.”

The above should be said with your full attention at their level and NOT over your shoulder without eye contact. It is then very important that you follow through with your promise relatively quickly so that they learn that you have heard their request and that your will do as you said.

Acknowledge their feelings by using “I know” rather than “No”.

For Example…

“I know that you want me to come and help you and I will come shortly but first I have to finish folding the laundry.”

7 Tips For Developing Good Communication With Your Child

Listening to your child will most definitely be one of the mainstays of maintaining a healthy relationship with them not just when they are young but throughout your lives. 

Many people ask me what I feel is the key to the good relationship I have with my now grown-up son and I always say keep talking and keep listening.

Offering opportunities in your daily routine to encourage listening and talking are, therefore, vital in establishing this lifelong habit and there are many enjoyable ways to do this.

1. Have Daily Chats

Making sure that you take time to have daily chats is a good way to take time out to listen to your toddler. 

Family mealtimes offer a wonderful opportunity for listening to what your little one has to say, as do snuggle up chats at bedtime. 

These are times of day when you are less likely to be distracted by other things and have time to concentrate and pay attention to what your children would like to talk about.

2. Read And Play Together

Reading to your kids helps to improve their language which gives them the tools to talk to you more clearly about their needs and feelings. 

Books that talk about feelings and everyday situations that toddlers are experiencing, will help to equip your little one with the words they need to talk to you. 

Discuss the book you are reading together as this will give loads of opportunities for you to listen to your little one and encourage them to talk to you about all sorts of different subjects.

Simple games like ‘Simon Says’ are great for teaching and modelling good listening skills, as the game’s success depends on the participants listening to each other. 

When your child is drawing or painting ask them to explain what their creation is about. This is another wonderful opportunity for you to show your interest in what they have to say.

3. Keep Talking

To encourage open communication between you and your child, it is important to keep up an easy dialogue with your little one. 

Chat about what you are doing as you go about your daily life talking about what you are doing, seeing and feeling. 

This verbal engagement and your interest will make it easier for your child to talk to you about tricky things when they crop up. 

TOP TIP: Showing that you are interested in listening to what they have to say will let your child know that it is safe to talk to you about anything and everything.

4. Praise, Encourage And Show Interest

When you listen to your child and praise their effort, it is another way of encouraging your children to talk to you and for you to have the opportunity to listen to them. 

Young kids need to feel they can express their thoughts and feelings in a safe place so when they want to tell you something, stop what you are doing and focus on what they have to say. 

Use facial expressions to encourage them to continue as well as words of praise to keep the conversation going.

5. Don’t Always Offer A Solution

When your child comes to tell you about a problem, listen using the active listening tips mentioned above and then encourage your older toddler or preschooler to come up with a solution by asking them what they think should be done. 

This can be very empowering if your child feels listened to and then that you have allowed them to come up with a solution. 

Obviously, this takes some practice and you can guide them towards a solution with a discussion of the options on offer but ultimately, you will have given the all-important signal that what they have to say, counts.

6. Be Available To Listen

When it comes to feelings and emotions, it is important that your child feels that you are an available listener. 

If they can trust you to take care of what they have to say, then they are more likely to tell you about what they are feeling. 

Being available to listen also means that you are paying attention and this means a lot to your little one in making them feel valued and worthy of your time.

Talking about feelings is a learnt skill and by showing that you are prepared to listen to your child, you will be providing them with the nurturing environment they need to feel safe to talk about things that concern them. 

You can talk about being angry, for example, and acknowledge that it is ok to feel this way. 

Encourage your toddler to find the right words to express themselves and listen to what they have to say.

7. Lead By Example

We as parents all want our children to listen to us and the best way to teach them to do this is to show them how. 

By listening to them we are modelling to them a social skill that will become vitally important in all their future relationships.

TOP TIP: In order for our kids to understand the importance of listening they need to know how to listen and what better way to learn than by first being listened to by you.

Listening teaches mutual respect and as they grow your children will understand that it is a two-way street, but if you want your children to listen to you you need to listen to them first.

12 Ways To Encourage Your Child To Listen Too

As humans, we all like to feel heard and listening is a two-way street. And when you listen to your child you will be teaching them to listen to you too.

However, there are some other things that you as a parent can do to help your child learn to listen:

  1. Get down to their level and make eye contact
  2. Keep things simple (don’t lecture)
  3. Give warnings and avoid abrupt endings to playtime etc
  4. Explain clearly what is going to happen and why
  5. Exchange saying ‘don’t’ for telling them what to do instead
  6. Offer simple options 
  7. Involve them in solutions
  8. Acknowledge their feelings
  9. Thank them for listening and doing as asked
  10. Try and say ‘yes’ more often
  11. Lead by example
  12. Create a listening environment at mealtimes, when reading books, snuggles before bedtime.

Final Notes

We as human beings all wish to be listened to and our words to be heard. 

It is at the core of how we express our emotions, tell those around us what we are thinking and how we feel about each other. 

Therefore, by modelling good listening skills to your child from the day they are born, you will be empowering them and giving them a vital skill. 

REMEMBER: Listening gives your child self-worth and it gives them a voice, which in turn, gives you a doorway into their world, dreams, fears & thoughts about their life and the people around them.

If you enjoyed this post and know other parents who would enjoy this content, be sure to give it a share!

As I mentioned in this post, if you’re looking for products for your little one and you’re not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.

It is full of all my favourite products which I’ve tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, they’re all baby proof!

Do you have any blog recommendations that you’d like me to write about? Drop me an email: [email protected] and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Thank you for your continued support!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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