As parents, we are prone to do more talking than listening with our children. Now, there is a time for both talking and listening. The key is to be timely and to focus on what your child needs in the moment.
Little Chip is having trouble tying his shoes. He’s trying to be a big boy, but he’s not getting it. If mom jumps in there and starts with, “Here, let me get that for you,” the shoes will be tied but a teachable moment will be lost.
First, notice Chip’s emotional fever rising. Does his face carry a frown? Is he throwing his shoe aside? Is he looking at you and about to burst into tears? All signs of his emotional fever rising. Your response? Active listening. “Wow, buddy, you seem frustrated? Can I help?”
This simple comment on your part starts the process of Chip’s fever going down. By asking to help, you can get permission to show him again how to tie his shoes, guide him through doing it himself, or do it yourself, with running commentary to your son.
If Chip simply asks for your help, with no signs of a rising emotional fever, then you can direct him or instruct him in the process. Direction and instruction are two of three healthy forms of communication parents give children who are simply learning. The other, checking in, is a short, touching base talk, such as, “Hey, buddy, how’s that shoelace tying thing going for you?” With these forms of communication, the goal is to help out, as the parent, and not to take the task over.
When active listening, if you err on the side of talking too much, you are probably turning a teachable moment into an unwanted lecture. People can usually identify feelings in 5 words or less. Give your child time to absorb and respond.
When touching base, directing, or instructing, where there is no apparent problem for your child, remember that most children’s attention spans are about 30-60” If your child’s attention wanders, you’ve lost a teachable moment anyway. Either engage his curiosity about the topic or let it go and come back to it later.
The time for talking is when there is no emotional fever and when you’ve captured your child’s attention. The time for listening is when your child is hurting. Listening heals the hurt far more than talking.