Mother and her daughter enjoying family dinner together.

How to Build a Habit of Listening to Your Kids

To be listened to is to be validated for who you are.

Sometimes the only thing we need is that one person who will truly listen and hear what we need to say. They don’t need to solve it for us or give advice – we just need to be listened to and accepted in order to access our own ability to problem solve or to accept ourselves.

As parents we can get overwhelmed with ongoing chitter chatter and begin tuning our kids out. This is bound to happen sometimes when you've got a talkative child, but it's worth paying attention to whether we’re getting into a habit of tuning them out. If we get into a habit of shutting out kids' conversation, we won’t notice when they’re saying something important, or worse yet – after years of not really being listened to they’ll stop coming to us to talk.

How can we build a habit of listening?

A couple things really help build the listening habit. The first is understanding why listening now really matters. This article on why it's about more than the Legos tells the moment I realized that the habits we build now for listening are what will set the stage for how my kids talk to me into their teenage years and beyond.

The second thing that helps for building a listening habit, is simply having some ideas of when you'll listen, and how you'll spark conversation. If you make listening a priority you're more likely to notice those little moments that pop up when you could chat with your child. It doesn't have to be a whole hour – if you have 5 minutes in the car together, that's a great opportunity. Keep a conversation starter handy and you'll have something fun to ask.

Ideas for times to create a habit of listening:

  • Turning down or turning off the radio in the car – You might make a choice that when your kids are in the car you have a conversation prompt ready to go, or you try playing a conversation game.
  • Listen to kids while cooking or during meals – Conversation is a huge benefit to having meals together as a family. If your family schedule doesn't allow for dinners together, maybe breakfast would be a good time to gather around a meal.
  • Invite a child to keep you company while you do a chore like laundry or raking – When you have more than one kid it can be especially challenging to get time to talk one on one. Sometimes asking for company while doing a chore is the perfect way to grab a few minutes to chat with one child at a time.
  • Rotate through giving 10 minutes to each child at bedtime – bedtime might be a peaceful time to talk about the events of the day. Or if your family has more early risers you could grab 10 minutes to chat in the morning.

Ideas for handling boring, annoying or uncomfortable topics:

  • Ask your child (without judgement) what interests them about the topic
  • Try to learn something from your child – ask about what you don’t understand
  • Keep in mind the good skills they’re learning for describing events or telling a story
  • Set a time to talk and perhaps set a timer for the topic
  • Look up information about the topic together

Journal Prompts About Listening:

Who listened to you when you were a child? Can you remember how that felt? How was it different than the people who ignored you or dismissed what you had to say?

What are the most difficult conversation topics for you to listen to? Why? What emotions does this topic bring up in you? Do you have work to do around this topic yourself?