Six Tips for Effective Listening

Loni Coombs, former prosecutor and author of “You’re Perfect ...” and Other Lies Parents Tell — published by Jay McGraw’s publishing company, Bird Street Books — shares her six tips for effective listening for parents. "If you commit to practicing [these tips] — and it will take commitment — you will get to know your child better, and your child will open up more in the welcoming environment you have provided."



  1. Face Your Children and Maintain Eye Contact while They Are Speaking
    We’re sitting here watching TV, and the kid comes in and wants to talk, and we never even look at him or her. We never give the courtesy of turning our body, saying, "I am listening with my whole body. I’ve turned my whole body to you." Think how much more they feel respected and acknowledged when you put everything aside, and turn and actually face them with your eyes and with your entire body.

  2. When They Want to Talk, Make Sure You’re Available
    This is very critical, because when there is a crisis, if you haven’t been listening to all the little things, then when something big comes along, your child is not going to feel comfortable coming and talking to you at that time, either, because you haven’t developed this habit of listening, being available, when the child wants to talk. You can also boost your child's self-confidence if you stop what you're doing when they want to talk.

  3. Be Aware of Your Tone and Facial Expressions
    Kids are very aware of their parents facial expressions and tone, and they know right away if their parents are distracted, angry or irritated. All they have to do is see one little sign, and the kids will say, "I don’t want to talk." So, really be aware if your tone is short, or you’re frowning or rolling your eyes, because your kids are extremely sensitive to those things. Always remember: eye contact.

  4. Focus on What Your Child is Saying
    Don't get distracted by your child's appearance or what your response is going to be. Listen to your child's spoken and unspoken messages, notice his or her body language and don't worry about the way he or she is speaking — understand what your child is saying. You're listening to try and see the world from his or her vantage point. Also, remain quiet and let your child speak for as long as it takes.

  5. Try Very Hard Not to Get Defensive
    Some of the hardest, yet most important, things for your child to talk about to you may be said as a complaint or an attack. Try and keep quiet and let your child fully express his or her feelings.

  6. Reflect Your Child’s Feelings
    When your child tries to tell you something, really focus on what he or she is trying to express to you in terms of what he or she felt, and then put yourself in that position and reflect back to your child. You can say, ‘What I think you’re saying is you felt this way,’ and describe it. Go back and forth until you are able to describe to your child’s satisfaction his or her feelings and emotions.


“You’re Perfect” ... and Other Lies Parents Tell
by Loni Coombs

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