I’m always moved when I stop, get down on the floor with a child, and then just wait. It’s like the child is a conversation just waiting to happen. All I need to do is crystallize the moment by providing the gift of full attention.

I’ve also trained myself to listen differently when someone asks question of me. Think of a question not simply as something to be answered, but as an opening for conversation.

Sure, sometimes our kids are looking for a simple answer. But often they are looking for an opportunity to talk.

All children have questions, and every question matters to them—or they wouldn’t ask. If we can respond in a thoughtful, attentive way when they are small, we lay the groundwork for the tougher problems and questions that will come later in life.

If you sense they want to talk, respond in a way that encourages them to talk versus quickly answering the question so the conversation ends. You might say something like “Tell me what you’re thinking” or “Say some more about that…” This opens the door not only to getting more clarity about the question, but also to deepening the conversation.

Listening, in my mind, is the most important interpersonal skill, and we’ve lost touch with it in the busy and distracting pace of everyday life.   

Here are some important points to remember about listening…

  • Paying attention to someone’s speaking is a gift.
  • All of us have a natural ability to listen in a profound way.
  • The world of distraction is working against us.
  • We have layers of thought in our minds, and attention and listening and open-ended questions are the access to those deeper layers.
  • We can more likely make a difference with how we listen than with what we say.
  • The level of listening determines the level and quality of the speaking.
  • If we listen, people will feel supported, thoughts will be clarified, people will open up, ideas will emerge, upset will disappear, creativity will emerge, and self-esteem will soar.

“Nothing hurts more than the sense that people close to us aren’t really listening to what we have to say. We never outgrow the need to communicate what it feels like to live in our separate, private worlds of experience. An attentive ear is such a powerful force in human relationships. That’s…why the failure to be heard and understood is so painful.”   —Michael Nichols, author of The Lost Art of Listening 

To go a little deeper into the subject of encouraging your kids to talk, download the Brenda Ueland article, “Tell Me More” from our website. It’s our gift to you!



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Paul Axtell is author of Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids: Creating the relationship you want with the most important people in your life. He and his wife, Cindy, live in Minneapolis and love sharing time and conversations with their 13 grandchildren.