Attending skills and how you can employ these through small changes in your behavior and body language improve active listening and how you connect with your child. So, what is active listening?
Active listening is exactly what the name suggests: the act of actively listening and hearing what the person has to say. Take a moment to reflect on how you generally listen when you’re engaged in a conversation. How does the other person know you’re paying attention? Do you use attending skills? Do you look away? Do you continue to use your device? Do you use words or make sounds to encourage the person to continue? Do you interrupt and talk about yourself?
Active listening combines attending skills – those things that show we are focusing on and trying to understand what the other person is saying – with verbal and non-verbal behaviors that encourage the person to continue and reflect on our understanding. Together, attending and active listening provides an environment so your child (or anyone else!) can feel heard, understood, and supported.
Given that you already know about attending skills, what else can you do to practice active listening? First, it’s important to recognize that active listening is something that takes intention and effort – it is as much a psychological process within ourselves as it is a way of interacting. Active listening requires that we pay attention and try to understand what is being said, as well as respond appropriately to it. As well as using your attending skills, active listening can be promoted by:
- Nodding your head: A simple step, providing small physical encouragers such as gently nodding the head when appropriate or in response to rhetorical questions can help encourage a student to continue talking.
- Use minimal encouragers: Minimal encouragers are words or sounds that, without interrupting or contributing sentences to the conversation, verbally indicate listening and consideration of what is being said. These include sounds like “mmm” and “uh huh”, and words and phrases such as “wow” and “I see.” Like nodding, minimal encouragement acknowledge your child and what they are saying, and encourage them to go on.
- Nonverbal responses to content and expression: When engaging in a conversation, we often quite naturally provide appropriate responses such as laughing when the speaker laughs, smiling when they say something positive, nodding to provide encouragement, and showing appropriate facial expressions what is being said is concerning or distressing. Such responses promote a sense of understanding and interest in the speaker.
Chances are, you already do many of these things. And if there is something you’d like to work on, you will probably find that with just a little practice it soon becomes natural.
At its core, active listening is simply about having a conversation. Don’t overthink your actions, simply be present and give your attention to your child. Your time and undivided attention is what they want and need. Some common communication skills used in counseling to extend active listening: reflecting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Think about how well you do these things and make a change you just might improve family communication with the whole family (partner included.)
This is my last Counselor Hub parent education article as I retire next week and return to Australia to support my 95-year-old mother whose health has deteriorated making it necessary for me to return home.
I would like to thank the tremendous support from the entire MSB community and wish you a safe and prosperous future. I will miss you especially my colleagues and of course the wonderful students that make working as a counselor/ teacher not work at all.
In the wise words of Dr. Suess “Don’t be sad because it’s over, smile because it happened”.
Always in my heart.