A necessary way of communicating love to our children is listening in an understanding way. Listening is one skill that many people take for granted. However, I believe listening is so important that I recommend parents purchase a book or enroll in a course on how to listen. Listening does not come naturally. Most adults are preoccupied with their own needs and problems and therefore have a tendency not to listen carefully to those around them. By not noticing the needs of others, we can communicate that we are not interested in them.

There are several important points to remember about being an effective listener with our children:

A good listener desires eye contact with the speaker. That means stopping our activities—putting the newspaper down, turning the television off—and giving our undivided attention.

A good listener never assumes he knows what the other person is saying. I have reacted to something one of my children said only to learn later that what I understood wasn't what he really meant. One of the fastest ways to close a person's spirit is to accuse him of something that he doesn't really mean.

I have found it helpful to ask questions to clarify what the other person has said. I repeat in different words what I think they mean. Then I ask them, "Is that what you are saying?" If they say, "Well, Dad, that's close, but that's not quite it," I say, "Well, we have plenty of time. Just what do you mean by that?" Then they will repeat what they are trying to tell me.

Greg is our resident comedian. But one time I thought he took it too far when I found Michael, at age three, lying on the bottom of the motel swimming pool. After rescuing Mike, I rushed him to our room so a local doctor could check him. Greg was chasing us when he yelled, "Dad wait, I can't keep up. He's okay, I'm sure!" and he started to laugh. I stopped, snapped my head around, and scolded him, pointing for him to stay with Mom. "What does he know about the seriousness of the situation?" I muttered as I continued running. Later, Greg tried to explain what he meant. Instead of reacting, I asked him to explain himself. He simply was trying to tell me that he wanted to help and in his nervousness he began to laugh without really knowing why.

Another key factor in being a good listener is to not overreact or take immediate action. One day I almost ran to Kari's school after hearing what one of her teachers had said about her in class. I was extremely upset that a professional teacher would say what he said to her. Kari immediately started crying and pleaded with me that I not confront the teacher. When I saw her fear I calmed down and reassured her that I would not go to the teacher without her permission. My assurance gave her the added freedom to share the rest of what he had said.

Later, after we'd both had time to think, I asked Kari for permission to see the teacher and she granted it. Norma and I confronted him, repeating what Kari had said he shared in class about her. The teacher confessed it, apologized to us, and asked if he could see Kari immediately. We took him to her and in tears he put his arms around her and sought her forgiveness. It was a special moment for all of us. Because I had not acted impulsively but instead asked for her permission first, Kari continued to open in sharing with us what happens in her life at school.

I have found that it is best to go through a whole conversation, then later on, after we have had time to think, take action with the agreement of the children involved. An immediate reaction causes children to fear bringing up things in the future, cutting the lines of communication.

In order to be a good listener, it is also important that we not ridicule what our children say. We may not understand what they are saying, but being critical or ridiculing a child lowers his sense of self worth and can cut off meaningful communication.

© Copyright 2005 Smalley Relationship Center