Listening to Your Kids

When your child speaks, do you listen? You may give an ear, but do you give attention, your time? Do you try to hear what really is being said?

If not, you’re like many of us fathers. We hear but sometimes fail to listen. After all, there are so many messages coming at us, and our kids often don’t say what they mean, anyway.

The good news is, you can start becoming a better listener today. Not only with your kids, but with your wife and friends. You may find that your attention is the greatest gift you can give someone today.

The National Center for Fathering conducted a survey at one of the group’s father-daughter workshops.

Each girl was asked to complete the sentence and give it to her dad: “I wish you would ____________.”

Here are some of the girls’ responses. (Dad, be warned: You may hear your child talking to you.)

• “I wish my dad would try and understand what I’m going through, and be there when I need someone to talk to just as a friend and not as a parent.”

• “I need him to completely hear me out and not assume things ... to listen before he speaks.”

• “[I wish he] would take time and not talk but let me tell him one secret that I have hidden for a long time.”

• “Try to see where I’m coming from before blowing up in my face and later wanting my forgiveness.”

• “Listen when I need you to. You don’t have to have the right answers all the time; just be there for me.”

• “Don’t talk; don’t argue; just listen.”

Few fathers really work to develop listening skills, but this is a key area where we all need to excel. How would each of your children respond if you asked them to fill in the blank: “I wish you would ____________”? Maybe it’s time for a little qualitative research of your own; ask them to fill in the blank.

Or, if they’re too young, ask for feedback from their mom, their teachers, or other people who interact with them regularly.

Action Points

Practice really focusing on what your child is saying. When you’re sure she’s done talking, restate what she has said in your own words, to make sure you understand.

• Actively give your child non-verbal feedback as you’re listening: a nod, smile, look of surprise, raised eyebrows, etc.

• With young children, get down on their level so they know you’re focused on them and you’re ready to hear them.