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As parents, we all want to do our best to understand our children and their unique personalities. But as they grow and develop, it can be easy to lose track of their thoughts, feelings, and interests. That’s why it’s important to make an effort to really listen to what they have to say. You might be surprised by how much you can learn about your child, and how much closer it can bring you both!

Many middle schoolers don’t confide in their parents, and they feel like their parents don’t listen when they do. In a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta focus group, one middle schooler said they wished their parents would “listen to my thoughts and feelings instead of interrupting and saying it’s not that big of a deal.” Another said, “I want them to listen to what I’m saying, not just tell me to suck it up and say ‘you’re fine.'”

How to give your child the attention they need when they’re ready to talk:
  • Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what your child is saying.
  • Be mindful of your body language. Make eye contact, nod your head, and lean forward slightly to show that you are engaged in the conversation.
  • Avoid distractions. This means putting away your phone, turning off the TV, and closing your computer.
  • Be patient and understanding. It may take your child some time to warm up and start talking.
  • Let your child know that their thoughts and feelings are important. Even if you don’t always agree with them, it’s important to let them know that you value their input. Avoid downplaying your child’s concerns. Instead of saying, “Oh, you’ll do fine on that test,” say something like, “You sound stressed about your test. Math is really hard. What can I do to help?”
  • Above all, don’t judge. “If you’re reflecting back what you hear, it doesn’t necessarily mean you agree or you like it,” says Jody Baumstein, a licensed therapist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life. “You are trying to develop a sense of empathy so your child can walk away knowing, ‘My parent understood where I am coming from.'”
Pay attention to nonverbal communication

Even when children don’t want to talk, parents can still “listen” by paying attention to their nonverbal communication. Some signs of nonverbal communication that parents should look for include:

  • Withdrawal: Children who are struggling may withdraw from their usual activities or hide out in their room.
  • Tearfulness, moodiness, or attitude changes: Children who are struggling may also become more tearful, moody, or irritable than usual.
  • Physical complaints: Children who are struggling may also complain of physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches, even if there is no known medical cause.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to talk to your child about what they’re going through. Let them know that you’re there for them and that you want to help.

When helping your child to open up, it’s crucial to avoid pressuring them. Doing so can have the opposite effect, causing them to become more resistant. Instead, consider suggesting a trusted adult such as a coach or teacher whom your child can confide in.

Additionally, you can encourage them to express their emotions through creative outlets such as drawing, dancing, writing songs, or journaling. It’s worth having a list of different coping mechanisms readily available for them to refer to. Let your child know that you’re there for them and actively listen when they are ready to talk. This will facilitate future conversations and strengthen the bond between you and your child.

Offering advice

It’s really important to make sure your child is comfortable with any advice you offer. You could try asking them if they’d like to hear your thoughts by saying something like, “Would it be helpful if I shared some ideas to help with this issue?” This way, your child can decide whether they want your help or not.

Another great way to be supportive while promoting independence is to ask your child how you can help. Once they’ve given you some ideas, make sure to respect their wishes and not overreact or push them too far. Of course, if your child’s safety is ever at risk, let them know that you’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe.

By following these tips, you can show your child that you’re there for them and that you care about what they have to say. This will help to build a strong relationship between you and your child.

In Homework in a Cafe we are ready to support you and your child to overcome any struggle you or your child might be facing! Contact us now.

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How to Really Listen to Your Child. (n.d.). CHOA | Strong4Life. https://www.strong4life.com/en/parenting/communication/how-to-really-listen-to-your-child