Active Listening To Children

Nurturing Deeper Connections with Our Children and Building Their Listening Skill


8/2/202315 min read

woman in white long sleeve shirt kissing girl in white long sleeve shirt
woman in white long sleeve shirt kissing girl in white long sleeve shirt

In the process of learning to listen better, I often found myself overlooking the most important people in our lives - our own children.

This realization struck me during the Hair Combing Incident with my eldest daughter. That morning, as I gently combed her hair before school, she began pouring her heart out about a classmate she disliked.

She expressed deep frustration with her new monitress, finding her bossy, rude, and abusing her position of authority.

My daughter revealed how the monitress would resort to manipulation and blackmail to enforce her commands, even threatening to report trivial incidents like spilling water in the classroom to the teacher.

Seriously, they are only 7 years old and some can already play the Game Of Throne…

To add to her distress, the Chinese teacher in school had a harsh approach, scolding students for the slightest infractions and deducting points for minor rule violations like drinking water or accidentally spilling it.

I tried to offer practical advice, suggesting she inform the Chinese teacher that she had spilled the water herself, thereby disempowering the monitress.

However, instead of finding solace in my guidance, she broke down in frustration, expressing her struggle to communicate effectively with her teacher in Chinese.

In hindsight, I later realized that my daughter didn't need a problem solver; she needed an empathetic listener. She longed for someone who would genuinely hear what was going on in her life without immediately trying to fix things.

Her heartache was a call for understanding, not a solution.

Reflecting on this incident, I realized that we, as adults, have learned the art of empathetic listening and supporting others without offering solutions. However, this vital skill is often overlooked when it comes to our children.

We feel compelled to constantly provide guidance, impart our wisdom, and mold them into "better" individuals.

When we inquire about their day at school, we often focus on seeking out what went wrong, rather than cherishing the positive aspects of their school life. In doing so, we unintentionally overshadow their feelings and experiences with our eagerness to offer advice.

It's essential to recognize that empathetic listening is just as crucial for children, especially our own, as it is for adults.

By actively listening to our children without judgment or interruption, we convey the message that their thoughts and emotions matter, and we value their perspective of the world.

It can be a liberating revelation to discover that we don't need to constantly "fix" everything for our children. Instead, by actively listening to them, we send a powerful message that they are worthy of our undivided attention.

When we genuinely hear and acknowledge their distress, we validate their view of the world and affirm the merit of their feelings and experiences.

Moreover, by allowing them the time and space to determine their course of action, we demonstrate our unwavering trust in their ability to navigate and solve problems independently.

What Is Active Listening?

man in black suit jacket and black pants sitting on chair
man in black suit jacket and black pants sitting on chair

Active listening is a powerful tool that goes beyond simply hearing words; it involves immersing ourselves fully in the conversation and being attuned to both verbal and nonverbal cues.

This means setting aside any preconceived notions or judgments and giving our undivided attention to what the child is expressing.

When we actively listen to children, we create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and emotions openly. This encourages effective communication and emotional expression, nurturing a skill that will serve them well as they grow and face various challenges in life.

Through active listening, we gain valuable insights into the world through the innocent and imaginative eyes of a child.

We come to understand their needs, fears, dreams, and aspirations, fostering a deeper and more meaningful bond between parents or caregivers and their children.

In our eagerness to be helpful, we sometimes rush to provide solutions or advice to children's problems. However, active listening encourages us to be present in the moment and simply hear what our children have to say.

By doing so, we communicate that their thoughts and feelings truly matter, and that they are an essential part of the conversation.

Practicing active listening with our children not only strengthens the parent-child relationship but also instills in them the value of empathy and understanding.

These are essential qualities that will guide them in their interactions with others, enabling them to build positive and lasting connections throughout their lives.

Instead of immediately offering solutions, let's prioritize being attuned to our children's words, emotions, and unspoken cues.

By doing this, we empower them to find their own voice, make informed decisions, and develop into compassionate and empathetic individuals.

Benefits Of Active Listening To Your Child

  1. Strengthening the Parent-Child Bond: Regular communication creates a strong emotional connection between you and your child. When they feel heard and understood, the bond between you grows deeper, fostering a sense of security and trust.

  2. Understanding Your Child Better: Through open conversations, you gain insight into your child's emotions, priorities, and interests. This understanding allows you to respond to their needs more effectively and nurture their unique personality.

  3. Boosting Self-Esteem: By dedicating time to listen to your child, you demonstrate that they are valued and their thoughts matter. This act of attentive listening boosts their self-esteem and self-worth, making them feel important and appreciated.

  4. Enhancing Listening Skills: As you actively listen to your child, you set an example of attentive communication. This encourages them to become better listeners themselves and fosters healthy communication habits.

  5. Strengthening the Likelihood of Them Listening to You: When children feel genuinely heard and respected, they are more inclined to reciprocate. By demonstrating that you genuinely care about their thoughts and feelings, they are more likely to listen to your guidance and advice.

  6. Improving Articulation and Vocabulary: Engaging in conversations with your child helps enhance their language skills. By discussing various topics, they expand their vocabulary, develop better articulation, and refine their ability to express themselves effectively.

  7. Developing Social Skills: Meaningful conversations provide an opportunity for your child to practice their social skills. They learn how to engage in discussions, empathize with others, and understand differing perspectives.

  8. Nurturing Creativity: Children often see the world in unique and imaginative ways. By listening to their ideas and encouraging their creativity, you foster their innovative thinking and problem-solving skills.

  9. Creating a Safe Space for Expression: When you actively listen without judgment, your child feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, emotions, and concerns openly. This safe space allows them to process their feelings and seek support when needed.

  10. Fostering Emotional Intelligence: Regular discussions about emotions and feelings help your child develop emotional intelligence. They learn to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions, which contributes to their overall well-being and interpersonal relationships.

  11. Building Problem-Solving Skills: Through open conversations, children learn to navigate challenges and solve problems effectively. They gain the confidence to seek solutions independently and think critically.

  12. Strengthening Decision-Making Abilities: As you discuss various topics with your child, they learn to analyze situations and make informed decisions. This skill is valuable throughout their life as they face increasingly complex choices.

  13. Encouraging Empathy and Compassion: Active listening to your child's thoughts and concerns teaches them the importance of empathy and compassion. They understand the value of understanding others' perspectives and offering support.

  14. Providing Emotional Support: Engaging in open conversations allows you to be a source of emotional support for your child. They feel comfortable sharing their worries, fears, and joys with you, knowing you are there to listen and offer comfort.

  15. Strengthening Trust and Communication: Regular communication creates an environment of trust and openness between you and your child. It encourages them to confide in you during difficult times and share their achievements and successes.

  16. Cultivating Curiosity and Lifelong Learning: By discussing a wide range of topics, you ignite your child's curiosity and thirst for knowledge. They become eager learners, continually seeking new information and experiences.

  17. Enhancing Conflict Resolution Skills: Conversations provide opportunities to address conflicts constructively. Your child learns how to express their feelings and opinions assertively, leading to healthier conflict resolution.

  18. Building a Sense of Belonging: Through conversations, your child feels a sense of belonging and connection within the family. They know that their thoughts and opinions are valued, fostering a positive family dynamic.

  19. Strengthening Parenting Skills: Engaging in open and active communication with your child enhances your parenting skills. You learn more about their needs and preferences, allowing you to tailor your parenting approach effectively.

  20. Creating Positive Memories: Meaningful conversations with your child create lasting memories. These shared moments contribute to a happy and fulfilling family life, reinforcing positive experiences and feelings.

My Personal History

multicolored multiple story building
multicolored multiple story building

If active listening doesn't come naturally to you, don't beat yourself up over it. I understand this firsthand as it wasn't a practice that I grew up with.

I didn’t start doing active listening until very recently (my eldest girl is already 7) because mainly I wasn’t aware that there are other ways to interact with your children.

My parents never inquired about what happened in school, and it seemed better not to trouble them with such matters as it appeared to irritate them.

Consequently, when we were young, even if we got into conflicts with other children, we would be punished first, irrespective of the situation.

Throughout my childhood, praise for doing well was scarce, while punishments for any mistakes were plentiful. As a result, we grew up hesitant to share anything with our parents, unaware of what was happening in each other's lives.

Only recently did I learn from my sister-in-law that my younger brother was a victim of bullying during his secondary school days - an issue that remained unknown to our parents and even me.

Yeah, we are even reluctant to share anything between us, the only two siblings.

While this upbringing taught us to be independent from an early age, as we earned our own keep and paid for our tertiary education, it also conditioned us not to ask for help from our parents.

We refrained from seeking financial support for school excursions or approaching them for money, even when necessary.

Please don't misunderstand; we love our parents, and we know they love us too. However, our relationship felt somewhat conditional, with the constant need to earn approval and the fear of bothering them with our concerns.

Perhaps, our parents' own upbringing played a role in their communication style, as they were not accustomed to empathetic listening either. In their time, priorities were preoccupied with providing the basic necessities, and emotional support took a backseat.

Compared to then, we now live in a world of abundance, where peace is more predominant, and resources are readily available, thanks to the internet.

We are fortunate to have the privilege of doing things differently than our parents did. Let us take this opportunity to work on cultivating active listening within our own families.

While it may not be second nature, we can make a conscious effort to practice it and create an environment of open communication and understanding.

In today's world, where education and access to resources are abundant, we have the tools to be more attentive and supportive of our children's emotions and experiences.

By actively listening to our children without judgment or immediate solutions, we show them that their feelings and thoughts are essential and valued.

It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t come naturally to you, what matters is to keep practicing.

How To Do Active Listening

a sticky note pinned to a wall with the words how to written on it
a sticky note pinned to a wall with the words how to written on it

Active listening for children involves being fully present and engaged during conversations with them. Here are some practical steps to practice active listening for children:

Step 1: Give Undivided Attention

When your child approaches you to talk, put aside distractions such as phones or other tasks. Make eye contact and show genuine interest in what they have to say.

Step 2: Stay Attentive to Nonverbal Cues

Pay attention to their body language and facial expressions. Sometimes, children may not express everything verbally, but their nonverbal cues can provide valuable insights into their emotions.

Step 3: Avoid Interrupting

Allow your child to express themselves without interrupting or finishing their sentences. Let them speak at their own pace, and resist the urge to jump in with your thoughts or solutions.

Step 4: Use Encouraging Responses

Respond with affirmations like "I see," "Tell me more," or "That must have been tough." Encouraging responses show that you are actively listening and validating their feelings.

Step 5: Paraphrase and Repeat

Occasionally paraphrase or repeat what your child has said to confirm your understanding. This shows that you are genuinely listening and seeking to comprehend their perspective.

Step 6: Be Patient and Non-Judgmental

Refrain from judging or criticizing their thoughts and feelings. Children need to feel safe to share openly without fear of judgment.

Step 7: Ask Open-Ended Questions

Engage your child further by asking open-ended questions that encourage them to elaborate on their thoughts and experiences.

Step 8: Reflect Empathy and Understanding

Express empathy towards their emotions and experiences. Let them know that you understand and care about how they feel.

Step 9: Validate Their Emotions

Children's feelings are valid, even if they may seem trivial to adults. Avoid dismissing or belittling their emotions.

Step 10: Be Available and Approachable

Create an environment where your child feels comfortable coming to you with their concerns or thoughts. Be approachable and willing to listen at any time.

Step 11: Don't Rush to Offer Solutions

Sometimes, children just need someone to listen and validate their feelings. Avoid immediately jumping in with solutions unless they explicitly seek your advice.

Step 12: Be Mindful of Your Reactions

Be aware of your own emotional reactions during the conversation. Stay calm and composed, as your response can influence how your child communicates with you.

Active listening is a skill that takes practice, but the effort is worth the rewards in building a strong parent-child bond and nurturing your child's emotional well-being. And no, you do not have to know all the steps to make active listening work. Just get familiar with a few of them first.

Find those that resonates with you and slowly add others to your arsenal. I am personally working on listening without interruption and judgement, using encouraging responses and don't rush to offer solutions.

Different Scenario Examples

I am going to list out some scenarios to show you how different types of listening modes result in different results despite similar context.

Scenario A (Distracted)

In this scenario, the parent does not practice active listening when their child comes home from their first day of school.

Child: (Excitedly) Mom/Dad, guess what? Today was my first day of school!

Parent: (Distracted) Oh, that's nice, dear. I'm glad it went well.

Child: (Nervously) Well, it was okay, but I felt a little scared at first.

Parent: (Dismissive) Oh, don't worry, everyone feels that way on the first day. You'll get used to it.

Child: (Hesitant) Yeah, I guess.

Parent: (Interrupting) Anyway, I have some work to finish. Why don't you go play or do your homework?

Child: (Disheartened) Okay...

In this scenario, the parent is distracted and dismissive of the child's feelings. They don't actively listen to the child's experiences or emotions, and instead, they brush them off as something common and not worth discussing further.

The child's excitement and nervousness are not acknowledged, leading them to feel unheard and unsupported.

Without active listening, the parent misses the opportunity to bond with their child and provide emotional support during a significant milestone.

The child may hesitate to share further or feel that their feelings are not valued, potentially leading to communication barriers in the future.

Scenario B (Problem Solving)

In this scenario, the parent immediately jumps into problem-solving mode.

Child: (Excitedly) Mom/Dad, guess what? Today was my first day of school!

Parent: (Eager to solve) That's great! Did everything go perfectly?

Child: (Nervously) Well, it was okay, but I felt a little scared at first.

Parent: (Interrupting) Oh, don't worry! I have a solution for that. Tomorrow, you can take your favorite toy with you to school. That way, you won't feel scared.

Child: (Feeling unheard) But that's not the only thing bothering me...

Parent: (Excitedly) No problem! I can talk to your teacher and see if she can change your seating arrangement or maybe assign a friend to sit with you.

Child: (Frustrated) But that's not the real issue...

Parent: (Persistent) Don't worry, I'm sure we can fix anything that's bothering you. Just let me know, and I'll handle it for you.

Child: (Disheartened) Never mind, it's not that important...

In this scenario, the parent is well-intentioned but becomes a problem-solving parent, not practicing active listening. They immediately try to solve the child's perceived issues without fully understanding their feelings and experiences.

As a result, the child feels unheard and frustrated because their true emotions and concerns are not acknowledged.

The parent's eagerness to solve problems may come from a place of caring, but it inadvertently dismisses the child's feelings and desires to express themselves.

The child may refrain from sharing further or feel that their parent doesn't really listen to them, leading to a potential disconnect in the parent-child relationship.

Scenario C (Active Listening)

This time you decided to practice active listening.

Step 1: Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

When your child arrives home, greet them warmly with a smile and hug. Create a comfortable and safe environment where they feel encouraged to share their feelings.

Step 2: Give Undivided Attention

Sit down with your child and give them your undivided attention. Put away any distractions and make eye contact to show that you are fully present for their story.

Child: (Excitedly) Mom/Dad, guess what? Today was my first day of school!

Step 3: Use Encouraging Responses

Respond enthusiastically and encourage them to share their experiences.

Parent: Wow! That's wonderful to hear! I'm so excited to hear all about it. How was your first day?

Step 4: Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues

As they start sharing their experiences, pay attention to their nonverbal cues. Notice if they seem happy, nervous, or hesitant about sharing specific details.

Child: (Nervously) Well, it was okay, but I felt a little scared at first.

Step 5: Reflect Empathy and Understanding

Show empathy towards their feelings, even if they seem minor to you. Validate their emotions to make them feel heard and supported.

Parent: It's completely normal to feel a bit scared on your first day of school. Starting something new can be a little nerve-wracking. I'm here for you, and I'm proud of you for being brave.

Step 6: Ask Open-Ended Questions

Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to elaborate on their experiences and emotions.

Parent: What was the best part of your day? Is there anything you'd like to share with me?

Child: (Excitedly) I made a new friend, and we played together during recess!

Step 7: Avoid Interrupting

Let your child express themselves without interrupting. Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings without feeling rushed or cut off.

Step 8: Validate Their Emotions

Validate their emotions and experiences, even if they share challenges or setbacks.

Parent: It's wonderful that you made a new friend! I'm glad you had fun during recess. If there's anything you found difficult or want to talk about, know that I'm here to listen and support you.

Step 9: Be Patient and Non-Judgmental

Be patient and non-judgmental throughout the conversation. Allow them to share at their own pace and without fear of criticism.

Step 10: Show Interest and Support

Continue to show interest in their day and experiences. Ask follow-up questions and provide words of encouragement and support.

By actively listening and engaging with your child during this pivotal moment, you create a strong foundation for open communication and emotional connection.

Your child feels valued and understood, fostering a trusting relationship where they know they can turn to you with their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Setting Time To Listen

person holding white mini bell alarmclock
person holding white mini bell alarmclock

In my experience, setting aside dedicated time daily to listen to my children has proven to be invaluable. Whether during mealtime, bedtime, or playtime, creating these special moments for open communication strengthens our bond and fosters a deeper understanding of their lives.

While bedtime is often regarded as an ideal moment for winding down, I've found that it doesn't suit my personal situation.

Chatting before sleep tends to disrupt my own sleep patterns, causing insomnia. Therefore, I prefer engaging in heartfelt conversations during mealtime.

On the other hand, my wife prefers connecting with our children just before their bedtime.

It's essential to find the time that best suits your family's unique dynamics and routines.

The key is consistency - making a conscious effort to actively listen to our children on a regular basis, regardless of the time chosen.

By dedicating these moments to listen with genuine interest, we create a safe space where our children feel heard and valued. This, in turn, nurtures a sense of trust and emotional security, encouraging them to share their thoughts, dreams, and concerns openly.

As we actively listen and refrain from immediately offering solutions, we empower our children to explore their feelings and ideas independently.

This sense of autonomy fosters their self-confidence and decision-making skills, building a solid foundation for their future.


The journey of active listening opens up a world of profound connection and understanding between parents or caregivers and their children.

By immersing ourselves fully in the conversations, paying attention to both spoken and unspoken cues, and setting aside preconceived notions, we create a safe and nurturing space for our children to express themselves openly.

Through active listening, we not only foster effective communication and emotional expression in our children but also instill in them the invaluable skill of empathy. This skill will serve as a guiding compass throughout their lives, enabling them to build strong and meaningful relationships with others.

Moreover, active listening grants us unique insights into the wonders of the world as seen through the eyes of a child. We come to comprehend their needs, fears, dreams, and aspirations, deepening the bond between us and our children.

As parents and caregivers, we may be tempted to provide quick solutions or advice to our children's problems, but active listening reminds us to be present in the moment and simply hear what they have to say.

By doing so, we demonstrate that their thoughts and feelings matter, and that they are an integral part of the conversation.

Let us embrace the power of active listening, allowing it to transform our parent-child relationships into rich and nurturing connections.

By actively engaging in open and empathic communication, we not only empower our children to grow into confident, compassionate, and empathetic individuals but also enrich our own lives with deeper understanding and love.

In this fast-paced world, active listening becomes an invaluable tool, reminding us to slow down, be present, and truly connect with the hearts and minds of our children.

So, let us embark on this journey together, sowing the seeds of empathy and understanding, and nurturing a brighter future for our children and generations to come.

So, the next time your child wants to share something with you, put aside the urge to lecture or advise, and simply listen with an open heart and mind.

With love,