Want to show your teenager it’s possible to have a peaceful relationship with him or her during adolescence? Want to maintain or restore the bond your had with your child before they became a ‘difficult teenager?’

We Know: How Parents Can Show their Teenagers They’re Listening
A few helpful hints on parenting from former middle school teacher and children's writer Molly Hersage.

The 75/25 Strategy for parents

In order to be effective listeners parents need to spend 75% of their time listening to their children, and 25% percent talking. Furthermore, it is not enough for parents simply to let their children talk. They must actively listen to what is being said.

How can I be an active listener for my child?

Active listening can be achieved by focusing, acknowledging, and involving yourself in the discussion.

  • First, focus on the speaker by listening with your eyes and ears. As you listen to your child, imagine that what is happening to him is actually happening to you.
  • Second, acknowledge your role as a listener and your child as the talker. Let your child say everything he has to say, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Third, be involved by responding to any questions your child asks you. Use positive body language (e.g. leaning forward, eye contact, nodding) to indicate your interest in what your child is saying, and your commitment to hear him out.

Creating the Right Environment for Active Listening

Being a good listener means keeping your mouth closed the entire time your child is speaking. One of the most successful ways to do this is to enter into a dialogue with your child with the right attitude. This can be accomplished by making three simple behavior modifications to prepare for the discussion.

  • One, avoid all other distractions that may occur by finding a quiet place to have your discussions. This means no phones, no TV, no other people.
  • Two, suspend your current emotional state and commit instead to listening to your child’s feelings.
  • Three, put your personal prejudices aside and accept that you are there to learn what your child has to say, not necessarily to teach him something or make judgments about what he’s telling you.

Opportunities to Show Your Teenager You’re Listening

Car trips are a wonderful opportunity for you to practice active listening. Get behind the wheel, with your teen beside you, and drive an hour to a great restaurant for brunch on the weekend. Just let him/her tell you what’s going on in his/her life. Ask a few questions to warm him/her up a bit if need be, and then enjoy the ride, and the conversation.

Potential Roadblocks to Being a Good Listener

  • If you have been a big talker in the past, your child might not trust you right away to be a good listener (see "How Parents Can Get Their Teenagers to Listen to Them" and "The 3 Types of Parents"). You have to show her you can be attentive, quiet, and responsive to what she is saying.
  • Build trust as a listener by devote a chunk of time to spend with your teenager. She may be resistant to spending a whole afternoon with you, (especially if you have talked more than you have listened) but given enough time to resign herself to it, she will warm up.
  • Let your child choose how you will spend time together. This is an important first step, because it shows her you’re listening. Ask her what she likes to do, and what she would feel comfortable sharing with you. Then brace yourself for what she proposes, put on a smile, and go for it!

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