Parenting In Focus: Who is listening?

Talking is a skill we all need to develop. It takes practice and even planning. Think of what makes a conversation succeed for you.

If you want to talk with your teen — or anyone else for that matter — about an important matter, pick the right time. Don’t try to talk together when there has just been an argument. Don’t try to talk together when she is walking out the door. Make sure it is a two-way discussion that includes time for each of you to listen. The listening part is just as important as the talking part of communicating with someone.

Keep it brief. Watch her for signs that it is time to end the conversation, such as staring into space, silly responses, having you repeat your comments and others.

If you want a conversation, don’t make it a lecture. Make sure part of your conversation says something positive.

In today’s world, personal conversations have become more important than ever. Telephones are great but they do not replace personal conversations.

Some especially important ingredients in talking with your teen include little ways you can help these conversations take place. Remember that you can have a great discussion while you are driving or when you are puttering around the kitchen. When you are driving somewhere you have a captive audience. When you are in the kitchen, have some small snack that might make a discussion more delicious.

Listening tips

Remember to listen to the little stuff. If you listen, your teen will be more likely to talk. This is true on the heavy issues such as sex and drugs or everyday things like schoolwork. When your teen knows you are listening, he is more likely to trust you enough to talk about more things in his life.

Listen between the lines. For many teens, it is hard to talk to parents about things that really matter. Pay attention to the subjects your teen struggles to talk about with you.

Ask his opinion. Few things please children (or anybody else) more than to be asked their opinion. Ask your teen’s opinions on both little and big things.

Don’t interrupt. In a national survey, more than half of the children said that when they talked, their parents often or sometimes didn’t give them a chance to explain themselves. Give your teen plenty of time to explain his opinion or desires, even if you think you know what he’s going to say.

Let your child know that you value your conversation. You are laying the foundation for future communication. So much of the talking with your child is telling him what to do and what not to do. It may take a bit of practice to see how you get to a more personal level.

Seize the opportunities

Look for opportunities to talk together. Just like you know the importance of talking with your partner and your friends, talking with your teen can be valuable and meaningful.

Talking together helps you to really understand each other. Take the time to build a relationship that includes regular episodes of talking together.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.