Stop talking and listen if you want your child to thrive

Children are often more likely to open up about what’s going on for them when they’re standing beside you setting the table or you’re sitting side by side in the car, reveals Helen O’Callaghan

SIDEWAYS listening has been around for a long time in therapy rooms, where chairs are placed at a slight angle to each other so people feel more at ease about talking openly. 

Child therapist Helen Sholdice says sideways communication between child and parent works, because not having direct eye contact may allow children to bring up difficult topics.

“It doesn’t mean that face-to-face contact isn’t valuable as well. But when the child isn’t looking directly at the parent, they’re less concerned about whether the parent will disapprove of what they’re going to talk about,” she says.

Sholdice says the child’s first few sentences are often testing ground to see if their parents will engage and listen.

“It takes time for children to tease out what’s bothering them. If they’re provided with space and time and no interruptions by parents, they will gain confidence and feel listened to,” she says. 

While there’s a place for parental questions, mums and dads need to be aware of how many they’re asking, how soon they’re asking and in what tone of voice.

“Parents should do a lot of listening and wait for the child’s story to unfold. They can say ‘mmm’ ‘aah’ or nod their head. They don’t have to ask questions. 

"It creates more engagement and real listening and the more a child’s listened to, the more they’ll open up,” she says.

Sholdice says many children don’t open up easily. 

“When they do, we need to be available to really hear them. For every 10 sentences a child says, it might be a good idea for parents to say only one or two.”

When parents make conscious efforts to create space and time for each of their children, it’s a valuable indication to the child of how important the relationship is to the parent.

“Children need one- to-one time with parents. It’s essential every child feels cherished, unique and ‘seen’ by their parents. 

"This helps establish their place in the family”, says Sholdice, who suggests parents can be open about how much time they have: ‘I have an hour on Saturday morning and would love to have a walk with you and go for a hot chocolate afterwards, are you free?’

“Following up on a regular basis can help parents see the value of slowing down to listen and chat with their children,” she says.


* It can be difficult not to want to give children some hard-earned wisdom — saying less is often best.

* If your child says s/he doesn’t want to talk, yet clearly something’s worrying them, let them know you’re available anytime they do want to talk.

* Comment rather than question. let your comment contain empathy: ‘that sounded scary’, ‘that seems to have made you feel sad’.

* Be attuned to your child’s body language and facial expression.


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