How to Actively Listen to Your Child

We live in a world of distractions. And dad, your child is not one of them.

There have never been this many different things competing for our attention. As they add more apps and capabilities to our smart phones and more streaming services with more interesting programs, we find unlimited ways to be occupied or entertained. And that doesn’t count work responsibilities, household tasks, and anything else we hope to accomplish.

In this series on the 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers, there are several aspects where one key piece of advice is: Get your priorities straight and then live them out. That’s definitely true here with Secret #6: Active Listening. (In case you haven’t yet, you can assess your own fathering in these 7 areas using our online profile and master class right here.)

There are ways to become a better listener.

Some positive steps would include getting on your child’s level, maintaining eye contact, and asking questions to clarify or make sure you’re getting the message. Also, watch for clues in his or her body language and facial expressions, because often that’s more revealing than what they are actually saying, like how they’re feeling about what they’re telling you.

We should all regularly remind ourselves about the practical steps, like what we have outlined here. But once again,

Really becoming a good listener is about our commitment and our priorities.

If it’s important to make our kids feel heard and understood, and if we’re really serious about knowing our kids and connecting with them as often as we can, then we’ll do what’s necessary to become better listeners.

Here’s a good question to consider: What would your kids say is important to you? We can tell them over and over that they are extremely important to us, but they are more convinced by our actions. And too often, we dads make our kids feel like distractions or interruptions from something else we’d rather be doing. How often do we dismiss a child with something on his or mind because we’re watching a game or a silly video on our phone? We would never say those things are more important than our children, but do our actions back that up?

One great step is to decide separately, when you aren’t interacting with your child, that he is an important person in your life and you’re going to stop whatever you’re doing if he has something to say. Be more aware of that dynamic in everyday life—those times when your priorities could be interpreted based on your actions. Maybe even start anticipating your child coming up with a question or comment, and be ready to pause or turn away from what you’re doing so you can give him your full attention.

This doesn’t mean everything we do should be subject to a child’s whims or random “Why” questions? Kids do need to learn to be respectful of others, and we need be productive from time to time. But far too many kids feel like they’re distractions and interruptions from more important things in their dads’ lives. So let’s at least take a hard look at how well we’re valuing our kids’ words and thoughts, and how well we’re giving them our full attention and listen well.

Take initiative.

Yes, it’s active listening for a reason, and much of the activity is about removing distractions and drawing out a child to really focus on what she is saying.

And if we really want to make our listening a way to affirm and connect with our children, we can help create those moments. See, it’s one thing to put down what we’re doing if a child walks into the room; it’s another thing entirely to be the one who suggests going for a walk or a bike ride, kicking the soccer ball around, or going to the store together for something she needs. Or it could be simply saying, “Hey, let’s go get some ice cream. I want to hear about your week.”

You’re not engaging with your child just because he or she approached you; you’re proactively seeking out that time and that opportunity to listen. You’re choosing that instead of fifteen other things you could be doing. And many times, simply setting out on an outing with your child or working on something together will create a natural openness, where she’ll just start sharing things.

And remember: although bonding with your child is a fantastic benefit of good listening, once she learns that you’re really interested in hearing her thoughts—without interrupting or judging or correcting what she says—the chances increase that she’ll share about deeper concerns or issues, either today or at some pivotal moment in the future. Often, we dads earn the right to give advice and influence on our kids in meaningful ways by proving ourselves as listeners.

ALSO: Active Listening is part of our free online Profile and Master Class, which will provide feedback on your fathering and help with an action plan to improve. Get started here.

Would your kids say you’re a good listener? What have you learned about listening as a dad? Share your insights with other dads on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • How easily distracted are you? What are your biggest time-wasters?
  • Look over the practical suggestions above for being a good listener. Were these familiar to you? Do you regularly do them? What other listening skills would you add?
  • Make sure your child knows that you’re available for whatever they might need. Talk through scenarios, like when you’re working, weekends, early in the morning or late at night, and the best ways to reach you in each situation.
  • What’s your sense about how often you treat your kids like they’re distractions or interruptions? Ask their mom or someone else who knows you well. Or ask your kids themselves.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one time with each of your kids—great times to practice your listening skills.

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.