The Big Mistake Parents Make When Listening to Kids

Start With Kindness Mini Series Day 2 :
In celebration of the new 100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child poster coming out soon I'm publishing this mini series highlighting the most powerful parts of this list.

Yesterday I talked about the first step for me of getting out of survival mode parenting.

When I realized I was wasting so much time trying to live up to a fantasy in my head about what parenting should be like, it was very freeing – I started letting go of the notion that my family life should like anyone elses or that it should look the way I imagined it before having kids. I began working on being present for the family I have, not the one I imagined I should have.

Learning to Listen

I knew if I wanted to be there for my kids, I really needed to learn to listen – not just to the big stuff or the complaints, but to listen to it all – the little stuff too. I wanted to show them that I value them, and that meant doing my best to listen to what they care about, even if it isn't my interest.

All good ideas…but really exhausting, boring, and frustrating at times.

Some days I'd feel guilty for constantly shutting down the conversation or snapping at my kids when they were talking because I just didn't have the patience to get though one more Minecraft explanation.

I was making a big mistake.

Listen - 100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child

The Big Mistake When Listening to Kids:

I was forgetting that my kids are beginners at conversation.

They're beginners. What does this mean, and why does it make listening easier? I'll give you three good reasons, and you may think of more:

1. You're helping them learn how to narrate. Narration, or the telling back of a story or event, is a skill that underlies good writing and clear communication. Remembering it's helping my four year old grow this valuable skill when she winds through a confusing, long winded explanation of a TV show not only make me more patient, it helps me think of questions to ask that may get her thinking how to tell me the story clearly.

2. You can teach them about knowing your audience. We all can use the skill of noticing in a conversation when we're boring people. Yes, I do try to listen to explanations about Minecraft, My Little Pony or Legos because I know my kids value the topics. However, I also remember that they're new to having conversations and a valuable skill in conversation is watching your audience – thus sometimes when I'm worn out or not able to focus, I no longer feel bad for saying something like,”That sounds like something your friend Leigh might really like to hear about!” or “I'm tired and can't focus on you the way I'd like. Can we plan a time to talk about this later?”

3. You can show them how to look for a good time to talk. Of course we want to be available should our child have something important to tell us, no matter what we're doing. However, they do need to learn that if you tell someone a critical piece of information while that person is making a turn across a busy intersection…the listener probably won't hear you the way you'd like.

Part of listening well is being honest when I'm not able to do so. This way my kids learn that I DO want to listen to them, that listening doesn't look like distracted “uhhuh. hmmm.” while I actually pay attention to something else. If I can't focus on them, just like I would tell any adult, I'll let them know that I can't pay them the proper attention at the moment.  And then I'll make a point to get back to them.

Because we're building habits into our everyday routines of listening, I can be confident that if I have to stop the conversation, we'll have another chance to pick it up later.

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 the ongoing chitter chatter and begin tuning our kids out, and if we’re not careful we’ll get into a habit of tuning them out. We might not 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?

Click Here to Download Your Lesson 2 to find ways to give your kids the validation that comes with truly being listened to.


Even if you're listening, do you too often find that your kids don't seem willing to talk?  Do you get one word answers when you ask questions or bored silence in the car? Tomorrow we'll talk about the other half of building strong communication with your kids. It's simple, but critical.

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Tell me in the comments – what's the most difficult topic for you to listen to from your kids? How do you handle it?

Day three in this series: The ‘Go First’ Method for Creating Open Communication With Your Kids