The Parenting Coach: Too Much Talking, Not Enough Listening

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gilabrown110BY GILA BROWN, M.A.

On a recent flight to visit relatives for the holidays, I overheard a little boy ask, “Daddy, how do you make airplanes?”  His sweet little voice and inquisitive curiosity made me smile, but his father was clearly struggling with a response.   “It takes a lot of work… um… lots of metal… wings…”

Communication is a funny thing.  When our kids say something, we respond to what we think we hear, and then they respond to what they think we’ve said.  More often than not, our interpretations of each other’s words lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings.  Clearly, this 5-year old boy was not requesting an instruction manual for complete airplane engineering.  He had a specific question and asked it using the words he knew.  By trying to respond to the question he thought he heard, Dad passed up the chance to find out what his son was really asking.  Did he want to know who builds planes?  How long it takes?  How a plane is able to stay in the air?  What materials are used?  We don’t know.  The truth is, in our communications with others, we rarely do.   More often than not, we hear someone speak and we respond.  Rarely do we stop for clarification.  Is the comment or question we heard the same as the one the speaker intended?

Effective communication can be time consuming.  If we refrain from responding, in order to clarify what we’ve heard, it takes us longer to make our point.  And, oh how we enjoy making our points, correcting, clarifying, and telling it like it is.  Generally, we are more concerned with giving our point of view than truly hearing the other persons’.  This applies to our communications with our kids, as well as with other adults.  While taking the time to get clarification may seem tedious, it undoubtedly makes for more successful communication.   The old adage of measuring twice and cutting once, reminds us that doing something right the first time, saves us trouble in the long run.  Getting clarification of someone’s comments or questions allows us to respond appropriately, avoiding misinterpretations.

Communicating effectively requires patience, introspection and some well-chosen questions.  Here are a few for you to try:

o      What is my child really asking me?  What is the question behind the question?

o      Why is my child sharing this with me?  What is she hoping to get from me?

o      What is my gut emotional reaction to what’s being said?

o      Why are these emotions being triggered in me?

o      How can I respond compassionately?

o      What is the simplest and clearest way for me to express my thoughts?

The key to successful relationships, with kids or adults, begins with an intention to truly listen.  When we can put aside our need to have all the answers or share our unsolicited opinions, we make room for gaining a clear understanding of what is actually being said to us.  And, to a child, the gift of being heard and understood is paramount.

© Gila Brown, 2009

Gila Brown, M.A. is a Child Development Expert and Parent Coach, with over 10 years of teaching experience.  She specializes in parenting school-age children with grace, using principles of attachment parenting, positive discipline and effective communication.   Visit to sign up for a free newsletter.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.