Parents sometimes have difficulty in using active listening when a child is talking. This can be a huge mistake in hindsight when something tragic happens; a child runs away, attempts to commit suicide, or sneaks off to meet a “friend” he or she met online. Hearing what your child says is vastly different than listening to them as you multitask or are preoccupied. In order to effectively hear what your child is saying you must STOP what you are doing and give your undivided attention to the person speaking.
I have taught my children to tell me “Mom this is important” if I am not totally focusing in on what he or she is saying. In addition, I have alerted them to tell any grownup “this is an emergency” "I need your attention" in the event of a fire or other emergency situation requiring immediate action. Parenting is far too important not to learn how to be an active listener. Active listening takes practice and is an acquired skill for most people.
Active listening is the ability to hear what the person is saying without forming a reply in your head before the person speaking has finished his or her complete thought. An active listener is non-judgmental. When practicing active listening it is important that the listener acknowledge he or she is hearing what the other person is saying by nodding when appropriate, and reflecting back pieces of the spoken information received.
Another way to acknowledge you are actively listening to someone is by clarifying the information you are hearing. Clarifying what you are hearing gives the speaker confidence that what is being said is being heard and that you are paying attention. The most difficult aspect of active listening is not interrupting or changing the conversation by inserting your own thoughts or ideas. The person speaking controls how the conversation progresses, not the listener.
Active listening is a process and takes practice to master. The spoken word of our language is only one part of the whole process of active listening. You have heard the phrase "actions speak louder than words" and this is never as true as when it comes to active listening. By watching, the speaker’s body language you will learn to pick up what the speaker is not saying.
For instance if someone tells you they are calm, yet he or she has clenched fists, this is a mixed message. It is important to acknowledge that you hear what is being said, but also acknowledge that the clenched fists is saying otherwise. There are fascinating studies on body language. By using one’s full observational skills to hear both the spoken and the unspoken message, the listener will be able to determine whether the spoken word is congruent with the unspoken message. In the event of an inconsistency the listener must clarify what is being said and what is being seen. With practice anyone can be an effective and active listener.