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Monday, 28 March 2016

5 Top Tips: How to listen so your child will talk

Lately I’ve been worrying about one of my high school students. Chun (name changed) is academically successful and well liked by her peers. In school, she smiles and chats with friends and teachers, her face successfully concealing the storm that rages within her everyday.  

Chun and I have a good relationship, and she sometimes confides in me. In one particularly troubling conversation, she confessed her attempts to harm herself and disclosed her deep feelings of despair, anxiety, and futility. I asked her whether she had talked to her parents about her feelings – did they know the depth of her anxiety and depression?

My parents don’t listen to me, they never really have,” she said, her voice trailing off.

My conversation with Chun reminded me of the pressing need to create strong relationships with our kids when they are young and receptive. If we build and strengthen close relationships with our kids when they are young, then perhaps they will trust us and talk to us when they are older

5 Top Tips : How To Listen To Your Child:

    Here’s a great rule for life: Judge Less, Empathize More.

As parents, we tend to judge and evaluate everything our kids say because we want to help them do better. But in our desire to help, reform, advise, teach and instruct, we often forget to really hear what our kids are saying and what they are feeling.

So next time your child tells you anything, don’t pass judgment. Instead, just listen carefully and try to understand how your child feels.

Prioritize your relationship with your child and think long term.

In today’s world, we parents are often so anxious about short term goals, that we forget what really matters in the long run.

At the end of the day, our children’s happiness matters more than their achievements, and our relationship with them matters more than their marks and scores.  When they are teens and adults, we want them to enjoy being with us, and we want them to willingly share their lives with us.

So next time you’re anxious, think long term. Don’t nag and instruct, but instead sit down and listen. Listening is the foundation for a strong and close relationship.

Create Rituals in your day, where you have time to chat with your kids:

  • Bedtime -- when you can cuddle up with your little one and listen to her talk
  • Tea-time -- when I was working part-time and had the luxury of doing this, I used to love sitting at the dining table with my kids when they got home from school and chatting with them about their day. I'd play soft music, they'd eat their snack, and I would have a cup of tea. And we'd enjoy each other's company. And most importantly, I'd listen!
  • Car-time -- If you drive your kids to school in the morning, that can be a great time to ask a question and listen to your child talk. 
Note: I would advise putting away all phones and laptops during these ritualized talking/bonding times.

Ask Kids Questions, and master the art of the follow-up question

 If you get into the habit of asking kids questions, they will get into the habit of telling you more about themselves. Ask them open-ended questions and let them talk.  Show them that you’re interested in their lives.

Ask them how their day went, how they’re feeling, and what they think…and then (and here’s the hard part!) keep your mouth closed and listen to their responses. Try to really hear what they are saying and feeling.

When your child tells you about something that happened in school, don’t immediately offer advice. Instead, ask follow-up questions: Why did you do that? Do you think you did the right thing? How did that make you feel? What did the other kids do? What did she say next? What were you thinking at the time?

Put away your digital devices, look at your kids, and give them your full attention.

A few days ago, my seven-year old daughter gave me the best piece of advice I’ve gotten in a long time. I was on my laptop looking at my twitter feed. She wanted to chat, but I told her to wait a minute while I read an article.

She shook her head at me and said, “Mama, I’m far more important to you than all the people you are following on Twitter, so please shut down your laptop and listen to me instead of them.”

 I’m proud to say I did – I held her tightly on my lap and I listened carefully as she told me all about her day at school.

And here's an article in SmartParents.SG that I contributed to ... also on listening to your kids.


  1. Thanks for these great tips. I firmly believe that most problems can be solved by improving communication. But a lot of us never really learn how to communicate properly. The way we talk to our kids has a huge impact on their learning and ability.

  2. Thanks Jen, Clara: I think that you're right -- most issues can be solved with empathy and communication. I'm glad you liked the article.