Active Listening: Understand First, Be Understood Later

The oft laid woe of a parent is: ‘My child does not listen to me at all.’

Children complain ‘My parents don’t understand me at all.’

Communication is not a pill to swallow and fix an issue. Communication is a two way process undertaken over a period of time to express oneself and make oneself understood, understand others and decode what they actually mean to say!

Often, authentic communication has never been learned nor attempted. It begins very early and needs consistent fine tuning and must be adaptive with the changing needs of Family.

 I share three Communication skills that have made our Parenting journey extremely meaningful and poignant. I will try and make it simple.


You may write back or join the ongoing workshops to hone these skills.

It takes practice to build this skill.

 Skill 1 ~ Silence

Your child has much to share. If we observe we often push in the Conversation with our inputs, advice, suggestions, preaching, moralising. This puts the kids off and they clam up.

When the kids are sharing their side. Let them complete their sentences. Very often we interrupt their sentences mid-way to attend to a phone call, check something on the phone or plain get up and go away. This makes the child feel unheard and unloved. To make themselves heard, they then create scenes that you may find unpleasant. You may call them rude outbursts or tantrums. They were mere pleas to be heard.

Ensure you give your child your undivided attention when he or she brings to you an opportunity to be heard.

How can you make them feel heard?

Start with the following.

  1. Physical Postures: While listening with silence, give appropriate Eye Contact. Appropriate means, if they share an excitement, eyes twinkle accompanied with smiles. If there is a grim aspect, your eyes reflect the intense engagement. Give gentle nods of your head that tells them you perceive what they are sharing. Lean bodily a bit towards them. This communicates that you are engaged and interested. If your body leans away, it signals your disconnect.
  2. Attitude Set Required: In order to listen with Silence you need to suspend your judgments, feelings for a while. It means creating a Flexible mindset that is eager to uncover a new aspect of your Child.

Skill 2

  1. Passive Listening: It is not always possible to remain silent when child is speaking, so we employ certain sentences that are encouraging but gives nothing of your mental thinking.

Some handy statements are:

  • Tell me more about it.
  • This is really important to you.
  • That is how you feel about it.
  • You seem extremely happy/angry/disappointed/sad.
  1. Physical postures: At times if the child is shedding tears, venting feelings you may hold their hands and gently squeeze them. (This refers to Nurturing and Nourishing the person)

When you do this you express your language of Acceptance and Respect to all that is expressed. We communicate; we accept all that you express without burdening with our inputs. This is where communication is garbled when we butt in with ‘You shouldn’t feel so hurt!’

  • ‘You must care!’
  • ‘It is not like that!’
  • ‘You are over reacting!’
  • ‘You will be fine soon!’
  • ‘You go and play/watch something!’

In all these statements, you take away the worth of the child’s feeling of here and now!  What he is feeling may be transient but is genuine. To hear the pathos or jubilation will go a long way in the child learning to understand and process his feelings deeply.

Skill 3~ Active Listening

Honest Sharing.

When a child speaks:

  • ‘I am bored of school.’
  • ‘I don’t like that Uncle. ‘
  • ‘I hate writing.’

There are two components(He is used in generic way)

The words he is using.

The feeling he is expressing behind those words.

Often we only hear the words and begin our Moralising/Preaching

You should not feel that way. Good children like studies.


Don’t waste time

Go and study.

Threatening dire circumstances

Do it else…

Don’t misbehave.


Something happened at school?

Uncle did something?

The questions put the child on the defensive and ask him to explain.

Feelings are transitory, fleeting but they are important. Child who feels heard, feels valued.

Instead if we were to use the Silence, passive listening we encourage him to say more.

We show that his feelings matter when we pick up ‘The feeling’

Sentences we can use to do that:

‘I don’t like writing.’ : Hmm, I see writing seems to bug you.

I don’t like School. :’You feel not very happy in school’

Active Listening and picking up feeling takes time. Check facts.

A little incident.

Child: Mom, when will dinner be ready?

Mom: I am making it. Don’t rush me. I know you want to go and play. Go and study.

Child: Mom, full day study study study… How much should I study?

Mom: Go away before I shout…

Communication breakdown!

Consider this…

Child: Mom when is dinner ready?

Mom: You are very hungry.

Child: Yes, mom.

Mom: You want to know when dinner will be ready for you wish to play. (Fact Check)

Child: No mom, I am hungry and it is looking another hour before you finish cooking.

Mom: Oh that is true. You can eat this peanuts or a banana in the meantime, with honey?

Child: Yes, please!

Suspending our thought process to check on theirs will bring you lots of results.

Honest Sharing takes the same form.

As a parent, give authentic expression with I feel.

Some statements…

I feel tired to sleep so late as so many gadgets keep beeping around.

I feel angry with a messy kitchen. I need help to clear it.

I feel worried to see so much time spent on mobile. I would like to talk more.

Honest, direct, Clear.

No hidden Guilt, no shaming.

You are always on the mobile.

You are never studying.

I would like so much if you shared news from the papers. It will make me proud, instead of…

How will you learn anything if you don’t read newspapers? (Interrogation?)

Do try these skills and Share your experiences.

About The Author

Sonnal Pardiwala is a Parenting coach, Holistic Healer, and Homeschooling mom of two sons. She has been an author of a fanfic that made it to the Limca Book Of Records. She runs the Parenting Community “Active Parenting” which is a group for parents to talk about their concerns regarding children’s education, growth and development. 
Follow her here

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