The Listening Parent: Opening The Doors of Communication
By Meha Ahmad
There is no handbook, no manual, no one-size-fits-all method of parenting.
When their children drive them up a wall, some parents often throw up their hands and say, “I just don’t understand you.” Children may stomp the entire way up to their room before slamming the door and fuming in silence. The conversation has ended (probably before it even really began) and now there is an ever-widening gap between the two. Parents may think their child is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. Kids will think parents just aren’t listening.
There is almost no method parents can implement that is better than listening. Listening is the best way to learn and appreciate children, whether they’re starting preschool, high school, or college. Listening parents grow in knowledge and respect.
Parents have the amazing opportunity and potential capacity to motivate their children and develop a strong support system in the family. It just all depends on how well they listen.
The more effectively we listen, the more we learn. And when parents listen to their children, kids listen to them in return.
Quality listening is the most effective shield against social pressures children are facing today. As such, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to becoming a good listening parent.
Don’ts of the Listening Parent
- Don’t brush off your child’s opinions. Too often, your child will have the courage to give his or her own idea, and parents—shocked at the outrageousness of it, or just not interested—will slam it down with a wave of their hand. No explanation. Parents need to ask why the child’s idea is important to them. Is it really something you have to say “No” to? Can a compromise at least be reached? If what your child wants is really something you are not comfortable with, take the time to explain why; even try providing an alternative.
- Don’t give negative criticism. Evaluation and positive criticism are necessary to teach children how to improve, and do better next time. But negative comments—especially from Mom and Dad—are just not what they want to hear, and will get you nowhere. It’s more important to recognize your children’s efforts than the results. Instead, listen, don’t talk. Ask your child about their experience on a project or test; it helps the child to determine for themselves what they learned and how they want to improve next time.
- Don’t just pretend to listen. REALLY listen. You learn much more about your child that way. Even if you think the story is insignificant, if the child is taking the time to talk about it, it’s significant to them. Children can often tell when you’re not really listening, but just pacifying them. And it will just deter them from talking to you in the future (probably when it really counts, too).
- Don’t always be busy. We understand that you work hard. Parenting is a 24/7 job, not to mention that you still have to pay the bills and run an endless list of errands. But be available to your child when they want to talk or spend time with you, if possible. Repeatedly shouting “Not now, I’m busy!” will deter children from coming to you in the future, until you find yourself constantly approaching them and finding them uninterested in talking. You can’t just be available to communicate with your child on your time, but on their time, too.
- Don’t avoid talking about the hard topics. A recent Gallup survey showed that young Muslims are the angriest of all youth groups in America. Twenty-eight percent of Muslim students in New York report being stopped by police due to racial profiling. Almost 30 percent admit to using a non-Muslim sounding name to avoid pressure. This is on top of the day-to-day pressures of dating, conformity, and school, to name a few. Discuss these topics with your children; hear what they have to say about their experiences and feelings.
- Don’t interrupt. If you asked a question (or even if you didn’t), don’t interrupt their answer. This is just basic conversation etiquette. You’ll teach your child to do the same.
Do’s of the Listening Parent:
- Look into your child’s eyes when talking. Giving your full attention will teach your child that you respect them and care about what they have to say. They’ll learn that you are someone who will listen when they talk.
- Have an open mind.The number one reason children and parents have a hard time communicating is that kids are afraid of their parents’ reactions. “I really want to talk about this, but my mom/dad will freak out/get mad,” is thought by every child, teen and even young adult more than once in their life. Don’t think that the way you do things is the only way it can and should ever be done. Have an open mind; listen to your child and consider what they’re discussing. Watch your reactions and curb the instinct to jump and shout.
- Participate in the conversation. Listening is paramount, but I’m not saying you have to keep completely silent. Give short answers to their questions, and then ask questions of your own. It’ll demonstrate your genuine interest, and your child will learn that you are actually enjoying talking to them. But remember: this is a chance for your child to open up and for you to learn more about him or her. It’s not a time for lectures, so keep your part brief.
- Ask for their opinions. You don’t always have to wait for your child to approach you; initiate the conversation and ask for their opinions. This will make them feel comfortable offering their views, and opening up to you in the future.
- Talk about meaningful topics. Avoid routine questions. For example, don’t ask them about school. Trust me, this question means nothing to them. It’s like asking about the weather, and makes your child think you have nothing more important to talk to them about. There are dozens of real social problems your child is dealing with; start there.
- Adopt the teaching methods of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.The Prophet was the greatest teacher. He implemented many ways of instruction, including asking questions in response to a question (to force the asker to think about the nature of the situation from a different perspective). Learn more about the lessons the Prophet taught to help you with interacting with your child.
Engaging your child in conversation is easier said than done. But they won’t be the one to change in your relationship – it has to be you. You’re the parent, it’s your responsibility.