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Linda & Richard Eyre: Listening techniques to improve relationships

Published: Sunday, Sept. 16 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth in the Eyres’ miniseries on relationships. Click here to read the first three.

I (Richard) was going to start off by telling you that I used to video myself and then play it on the TV to get our kids to listen to me, but I (Linda) reminded him that this column is on listening to our children, not on getting them to listen to us.

You see, that is the bottom-line problem with most relationships — that one word — listening!

Lecturing, or any other form of one-way monologue, is not communication. And if we want real communication with our kids, we have to learn how to listen in ways that draw them out and open them up, that make them feel they are trusted and that they can trust us.

Of course, it is too big of a subject for a single column But let us just toss out 10 ideas that we think have merit. Pick from the list the ones you feel would work for you:

1. Make eye contact. Let a child see that you are really paying attention.

2. Ask the right kind of questions, which often use the words “how” and “feel” (“How did that make you feel?”) rather than the words “didn’t” and “know” (“Didn’t you know better?”). Ask questions that make your children think and that can’t be answered with one word.

3. Learn to use the word “really.” It can be said in dozens of different intonations and usually extends and deepens a conversation. It can imply surprise, or praise, or agreement or empathy, and it just shows that you are listening and encourages the child to keep on talking.

4. Even better than the word “really” is the technique of simply re-phrasing what the child has just said. Not judging or solving or ending anything, just repeating it back in your own words so he knows you heard him and feels encouraged to go on. This is a tough one, because it is so much harder to say, “Ahhh, so you’re telling me that Jason wasn’t very nice to you today,” and then fall silent than to follow our parental instincts and say, “Why would he do that?” or, “Well what did you do to him?” or, “Do I need to call his mother?”

5. Take advantage of the time you are in the car with your kids. Turn the radio off and ask good questions. They can’t get up and walk away and neither can you.

6. Use “tuck-in” time as communication time. Kids who won’t tell you anything while they are wide awake in the middle of the afternoon will tell you everything when they are relaxed and tired and aware that they might be able to stay up a little longer by keeping the conversation going.

7. Praise and reward questions. Quick or dismissive answers to children’s questions are opportunities wasted. Start by saying, “Great question,” and then something like, “What do you think the answer is?” or, “What made you think of a good question like that?” Turn it into as long of a discussion as you have time for, and then suggest that you continue the talk later or perhaps do some research on it together.

8. Use all the social media and communication devices your kids use (get them to teach you how). If they are old enough to use Facebook, you use it too, and talk to them through it. Do the same with Twitter and Instagram. Text and tweet. Meet them where they are. And then expect them to meet you where you are too, and really talk eye to eye and face to face when you are together.

9. Try to say “no” less. We have a good friend who offered his kids a dollar every time he said the word “no.” It cost him a little money, but he soon got over it and found that there were other, nicer ways to reply in the negative when he had to.

10. At the dinner table or in the evening, ask kids to tell you their “happy” for the day and their “sad” for the day — and tell them yours.

Ahhhh, the power that comes and the love that is shown by listening. We all know it is the key to better communication, and hopefully these ideas or others that they will bring to your mind will help us all do it just a little bit better.

By the way, most of them work just as well when applied to listening to our spouse.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.ValuesParenting.com and read their books for free at www.EyresFreeBooks.com.

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