You speak, your child doesn’t respond. Sound familiar? “Honey, make your bed please.” “Remember to feed the dog.” “Stop hitting your brother.” The list of parental requests goes on and on. Why is it that so often your requests go unanswered?

There are probably many answers to that question, but one of the primary reasons may be active listening. The truth is that most of us are poor listeners. Often when others are talking, we’re distracted. We could be half thinking of our response or thinking about something else. We do it, our friends do it and so do our kids.

The good news is there is something parents can do to break the cycle. It won’t be easy, but with time and effort, you can improve your children’s listening habits. As a parent, we need to learn to be an active listener and role model the behavior for our children. We also need to teach our children to be active listeners.

Active listening is a structured method of listening and responding that focuses attention on what the speaker is saying. It also guides the listener to respond in a way that shows he/she understands what was said. This process can help children be better listeners at home and at school.

Steps to teach your child active listening:
1. Eliminate distractions (The parent needs to put the phone or laptop down and the child needs to turn off the TV or video game.)
2. Ask your child to look you in the eye and maintain eye contact while you are talking. It is helpful if you kneel down to get at his/her eye level.
3. Talk in a calm voice. Let your child know what you need him/her to do in the fewest words possible in a quiet voice.
4. Have your child repeat what was said. By paraphrasing what they heard, you can ensure your child understands your request. If there is confusion, you can give more information.
5. Have your child say “OK.”He/she is agreeing to do what was requested.
6. Thank your child for listening. This will reinforce his/her positive behavior.

You can also use these techniques when your child wants to tell you something. Focus your attention. Repeat what was heard, so your child knows you understand. Summarize it succinctly, and add in an emotion you perceive. “It seems like you’re confused, or angry, or hurt because…” Allow the child to correct you if your perception is not accurate.

You can also empathize to show you understand their deeper feelings. Simply saying “Tell me more” or “I am sorry you are hurting” can be enough. Then give a hug or another response that lets him/her know you care. Thank them for sharing.

What have you done to encourage active listening skills in your child?

Barbara Volbrecht’s resume includes over a decade of journalism experience, ranging from news director at public radio station WUWM to anchor/reporter at News Talk station WTMJ.* Barbara currently works at Marquette University where she is both an advisor to student journalists and digital media majors working for Marquette Student Media, ( and a faculty member teaching courses in journalism and digital media. Barbara and her husband reside in Wisconsin and have three daughters.

*While working in media, Barbara used her maiden name Fleming on the air.

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