As kids grow older and begin to individuate, many parents worry that their kids will no longer seek their help along the way. Using active listening skills, versus distracted listening, when kids are young helps build a solid foundation for future communication.
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Parenting is full of difficult adjustments for parents, and letting go is one of them. As kids grow, they begin to find their voices and individuate. Gone are the days of secrets just for mommy as friends take on the role of secret-keeper. Where once they chatted nonstop on the way home from school, now they are a little less chatty. They need time to think, process and just zone out for a while. They no longer crave the constant feedback and validation that occurs during early childhood because they have peers, teachers and coaches providing feedback throughout each day.

This change in the parent-child relationship does not, however, mean that your children need you any less. In fact, they need you even more. The catch is that when they do need you, they need all of you. They need you to focus, remain present and truly listen to their questions and concerns. They need you to put down the smartphone and start listening.

When they do need you, they need all of you.
They need you to focus, remain present and truly listen to their questions and concerns.

A recent article in Time addressed how the parent-child relationship is affected by smartphone use. Citing new research from Boston Children’s Hospital, the article did not paint a pretty picture. When parents are glued to their phones, responding to text messages and scanning Facebook, children go to great lengths to get their attention. Behavior becomes negative and interactions between parents and children become short-tempered. It’s eye-opening, to say the least.

It’s time to get back to using active listening skills when engaging with our children. We teach our children to stop what they’re doing and listen when someone is talking to them and we owe it to them to do the same. If we want our children to continue to come to us when life is hard, we have to be there for them now. We have to remain present when they seek our guidance today so that we can build a solid foundation for open communication in the future.

Silence the noise

The problem with living in a state of constant connection is that there is a sense of urgency about responding to text messages, email and Facebook tags as soon as humanly possible. Sure, there are times when a work matter is pressing or you need to coordinate a pick-up for one of your children and you simply can’t avoid the incoming information. But if you stop to think about it, is this really the norm? Is it necessary to reply to every text the moment it chimes and respond to every email within a few minutes? I suspect that the answer is probably no. Some of those things can wait and it’s up to you to delay gratification.

We have to learn to silence the extraneous noise so that we can truly connect to the people right in front of us.

Silence your phone when you’re with your children. Carve out time when they are at school and when they are asleep to attend to those pressing matters so that you can be present when your kids are by your side. There has been a lot of talk about internet addiction and overuse of smartphones among tweens and teens, but parents face the same problem. We have to learn to silence the extraneous noise so that we can truly connect to the people right in front of us.

Back to basics

One of the biggest problems with distracted listening is that people fail to even make eye contact. Listening while doing a pile of dishes is just as distracted as listening while scrolling through your Instagram feed.

Parenting is full of busywork and often we try to accomplish too many things at one time. We cook dinner while answering questions about homework. We clean the kitchen during imaginary play (if we’re playing “restaurant" surely the dishes need to be cleaned, right?). We forget to stop checking things off of our mental to-do lists when we are with our kids because we just want to keep moving forward. It’s time to get back to basics when it comes to listening skills.

Eye contact is crucial when it comes to listening to our children. It shows them that we are actively engaged in the conversation. Follow up questions to clarify or seek more information show our children that we are interested in what they have to say. Brainstorming together reinforces the fact that we are there to help solve problems.

All of these things are basic listening skills, but they can’t be accomplished when we are distracted and focused on other things. We have to stop what we’re doing and be present. Your children need you right this very moment, but the rest can certainly wait.

The single best way to build a trusting relationship with your child is to stay involved.

Check in

As kids grow, they stop approaching parents with every little thought and question. In school they learn to think for themselves and attempt to solve a problem independently before seeking help from an adult. These are important steps for kids as they learn to find their way, but it doesn’t mean that you have to sit back and wait for them to come to you.

The single best way to build a trusting relationship with your child is to stay involved. Respect their boundaries when they need a bit of quiet time, but otherwise ask questions and take an interest in their friends, hobbies, sports and other interests. Be sure to allot plenty of 1:1 time with your child so that you can focus and listen to the answers. Soak in your child’s stories and reference them later. Laugh at the funny anecdotes and provide plenty of love and hugs when things are sad. Listening to your child is more than just opening your ears — listening to your child is opening your heart.

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