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Words with Kids: Yes, Kiddo, I’m Listening

Children go through so many stages. From the squishy infant phase to the independent young adult phase, they need to have a parent who they can connect with verbally. Listening and really hearing and understanding what our children say is critical to the development of positive communication over the years. The relationship between you and your child will not grow if you aren’t listening. Here are ideas to help you be a parent your child will know is worth talking to.

The Early Years

At the beginning of our children’s lives, they are so sweet. We love to hold them, to snuggle them, to sing songs over them, and show them things. We talk, talk, talk to them. And when they begin to coo back at us, we smile, and carry on pretend conversations. Babies learn early on that when they make noise, we give them attention.

Cue toddlerhood. By now, our children realize that their verbalizations can elicit powerful reactions from us. It’s amazing hearing our kiddos stringing words together as they work toward creating their own full sentences. It’s important to stop and listen to them as they show us a new rock they found in the yard, a scribbled picture of the family dog, or another mess they made. This conveys to them that their contributions are important, and shows that you really do care about what they are saying to you.

Preschoolers are hilarious people. They’ve usually got a story about everything that happens to them all.day.long. It can be exhausting and confusing while they try their best to explain things. Be patient as they learn how to craft stories and put events in order. Listen and ask questions to clarify so you can follow along. This is a magic age that really gives us insight into our children’s minds, interests and opinions. Listening to them can be sort of like a dream or a nightmare, but it can be so funny at times. Decide now to enjoy your preschool-aged child.

The Middle Years

By now, your children is in elementary school and so many new things are happening!

When you begin to spend a bit of time away from your child, they are full of stories to keep you up to date on what you missed. It can often be overwhelming to sort through all of their ramblings to find the important parts. Or, maybe your child is quieter and doesn’t want to share much information, keeping their own confidence. It’s critical to actively listen whenever our kiddos do speak up, whether a little or a lot. Listen to understand them, not to provide solutions or be critical. Work to remember what they’ve told you about certain school friends, certain likes and dislikes and their ideas for the future. These important things will come up again. When we recall previous conversations, our kids know we are listening and care about them.

Suddenly, without warning, your child is turning into a young man or woman and entering middle school. You fear they may stop talking to you altogether! You may have to make an intentional and concentrated effort now to connect with your child. Between sports, school work and a budding social life, you and your child may be apart more than ever before. Set aside time on a regular basis to connect face to face. It can be over a shared meal, while waiting for lessons or at bedtime. If they open their mouth, pay attention. They have many people they can talk to now; sharing with you is a choice they’ve made. Don’t make them regret it by being judgmental or sharing things they have asked you to keep secret.

The Later Years

Now, you’re able to have great conversations with your high schooler—if only they were at home, not on their phones and didn’t have outbursts every time you asked a question.

This can be one of the most challenging stages of parenting to connect with our kids. But as they edge ever closer to adulthood, they need our support more than ever. Big decisions are being made about the future, about career paths, about relationships and many other things. Be sensitive. Your child is grappling with many big issues and decisions and may feel overwhelmed or scared at times. Being a kind and impartial listening ear is crucial. Be someone whom your son or daughter can trust. Seek to truly hear their hearts when they talk to you. Help them put a name to their feelings as they navigate new-to-them territory. Resist the urge to solve problems for them, but listen as they discover they had a solution all along, but needed to talk it out.

Our children need our love, support and listening ears at every single stage of the growing up years. Every time we listen to our kids, we validate them as worthwhile and valuable human beings. Listening shows love, and fosters a deep connection between us.

So, the next time your kid is telling you about Fortnite or how they love dogs or how they want to go to the moon or can’t decide on a college, listen along to their lives. Be someone your child knows they can trust.

Like this post? Read the rest of our Words with Kids series here

This is the sixth in a series about communication between you and your child. Why focus on communication? Brazilian educator Paulo Freire says it best: "Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning." We talk to our children from birth; we spend countless hours and millions of words communicating with them over a lifetime. It's critical to our success as parents to communicate well. Our conversations and connections give lives meaning for both us as parents and our children. Over the next several months, we will continue to explore ideas of what good communication looks like in different facets of parenthood.

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