Will you let me finish?
If we really want to hear a child, we as parents must take a step back. It actually sounds very contradictory; you would rather think that you should come closer. With a step back, I mean that you can give your child the space to talk. As a parent, you might have the tendency to interrupt and then complete the story for your child. By taking over the conversation or thinking about what your child is about to say, you no longer hear the words of your child.
When do you actually take over the conversation? Maybe your child has difficulties finding the right words? Maybe your child falls silent? Maybe it’s a touchy subject? Maybe the child is emotional? Maybe you are working on something else that you would like to finish and therefore have less time, or in other words ‘Wait …..’? Maybe your child always comes up with the same story? Maybe the child would like to talk, but shows difficult behaviour instead?
All these things can influence the talk between you and your child. By assuming that you, as an adult, are ‘the expert’, will block great opportunities finding out what is really going on in your child’s mind. A child is an expert too, but in a different way.
And what can you do to have that good conversation? It always starts with showing warmth, respect and authenticity (Delfos, 2001). Take the time and let go of your own time schedule; your child needs your time. Be aware of your body language; your child knows you like no other. That way you help your child to relax. Sit at eye level, look at your child and give it a choice to look into your eyes or not.
Listen to what your child says and tells. A child has his own story. Children experience that adults are only partly interested in their experience. In Delfos (2001) we read: ‘Adults are interested in school, homework, bullying and health, but hardly listen to topics that are important to the child as fantasy, friendship, games, drawing, television and playing’.
Also, show your child that you hear him or her. Repeat what the child says, with the same wording that the child uses. Questions as: What do you think of this? How did you manage that? Who was present? What did you do next? What happened next? What do you like about this?
And also, be quiet. Just listen when your child talks to you. Occasionally you say hm-hm, to indicate that you are there. Yes, sometimes your child talks with detours, sometimes the story doesn’t sound logical and sometimes it seems to take a long time. That is not surprising, because your child needs the time to find the right words and then speak them out to you. Especially if the conversation is of a sensitive nature, your child needs to think even more. In the silence of the conversation, the most beautiful things happen and by letting that silence happen, you show your child that you give him or her space.
Delfos, M. F. (2001). Are you listening to me? Amsterdam, the Netherlands: SWP.
In summary: If you talk to me, I like it when you look at me. I would like to tell you about the things that I like myself. Do not finish my sentences, because I want to get the chance to use my own words and not yours.