The more effectively you listen to your child, the more effectively he likely will learn to listen.

How Can Parents Model Good Listening Skills?

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Listening is a critical skill that your child will need to succeed academically and in life. Through listening, your child learns what's going on around her, what she needs to do to accomplish a task and how to resolve conflict. One effective way for teaching listening skills is to model it. When you listen to your child the way you want to be listened to, your child gets the message and reciprocates.

1. Pay Attention

When you are listening, most of the cues involve body language, according to Mind Tools. Encourage your child to look the speaker in the eyes, leaning forward and to stand or sit with open arms. This body talk communicates interest and an openness to hear what the speaker is saying. With a child, especially a small child, you can get down on his level to model this, such as sitting on the floor or moving him up to your level. If he appears to be staring off into the distance, gently place your hands on both sides of his face and turn his head until his eyes engage yours.

2. Feedback

Feedback is a healthful part of good listening and you can model this when your child is talking to you. Whether you are nodding, making affirmative noises such as “uh-huh” or “hmmm,” your child knows you are paying attention. You can use what relationship expert and author Gary Smalley calls "LUV talk" to give feedback. LUV stands for listen, understand, validate and respond or repeat. Between the time you listen and validate, take just a few seconds to think about what was said before you rephrase what was said in your own words. With a child that might sound like, “Can you tell me what I just said to you?” When your child repeats your words, either affirm that she heard you correctly or correct what isn’t right. She can respond after she repeats it correctly.

3. Role-play

Role-playing is an efficient way of modeling listening skills. Have your child tell you a short story about something that recently happened or relay a funny joke. Repeat what he said, but in your own words. Take turns being the speaker or the hearer. Model good eye contact, open body language, affirmative murmurs and giving good feedback. Don't interrupt, even if your child says something you don’t agree with or doesn’t correctly repeat what you said. Let him finish speaking before you correct him. Remind that interrupting says you think you’re more important and that you don’t really care what the speaker is saying, according to a 2012 article at Forbes.com. You can also model good listening and poor listening with distractions and talking over the speaker and then ask your child which feels better. Your child can listen the way he wants others to listen to him.

4. Games

Games are an enjoyable way to model learning with kids. Play Simon Says, Mother, May I? or tell a serial story to encourage good listening. Your child can see that effective listening helps her win these games. Have her close her eyes, listen to directions and then follow them in a scavenger hunt. If she has trouble with the games because she isn’t listening, let her be the one giving instructions so you can model what she must do to successfully play.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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