You know the conversations I mean! The ones where you drift off into thoughts about the ingredient you need to buy for tonight's dinner or the argument you had with your partner that morning. Perhaps you're considering paint colours for your living room or simply distracted by the realisation that the kids have gone suspiciously quiet!
Listening is an art.
To listen well requires attention, practise and intention.
Our children love to share everything with us. As little ones it might be every bus or fire engine that drives past. Then they grow up a little and they ask "Why?" at every opportunity. Even older still and they are developing a much clearer sense of their interests and identity. Conversations might be about Minecraft or playground games. Awesome (and often ridiculous) ideas to change the world or make loads of money. And then our children hit their teenage years and often talk to us less. Perhaps they talk more to their friends or they just keep things inside.
All children have important things to talk about. It is our ability and willingness to listen to them that tells them it's OK to keep the conversations flowing.
If we dismiss the trivial things that our younger children talk about then we may be giving them a message that they should take their conversations elsewhere. Those trivial things are not trivial to our little children. That is their important stuff.
When kids know they can trust us with their important stuff then they'll keep sharing it with us.
I want my kids to talk to me about everything as they navigate and explore this beautiful and complex world we live in. I trust that whatever they bring up into conversation is exactly right for that time.
Do you want to have better conversation with your kids?
Here are some top tips for listening well:
1. Be present. It sounds so simple but many of us are in several places at once in our heads. Focus on the here and now with your child.
2. Ask questions. Your child probably has a lot more to share with you. Questions are a wonderful way to keep conversation flowing and to give you insight into what makes them tick.
3. Stop talking. Give your child space to talk. Allow them the opportunity to finish their sentences and their train of thought without interruption.
4. Be patient. Even if your child stops for a long pause it may not mean that they have finished talking. It is OK to have silence in conversations - by listening attentively you will know when silence is what is needed.
5. Pay attention to non verbal messages. Your child is communicating with their body as well as their voice. Their gestures, eye movements and facial expressions are all part of what they want to tell you.
6. Feedback your understanding. This is particularly important when you don't fully understand the topic of conversation! It's OK for us, as parents, not to know everything. Avoid jumping to conclusions and seek clarification to make sure your understanding is correct.