When a dad says he wants better communication with his kids, he shouldn’t just jump in and start talking. The first thing he needs to do—and do well—is listen. Here are eight ideas to practice with your children every day.
1. Face your child squarely. This says, “I’m available to you; I choose to be with you.” This also means putting away or turning off all distractions, like cell phones and other screens and background noise.
2. Adopt an open posture. Crossed arms and legs say, “I’m not interested.” An open posture shows your child that you’re open to him and what he has to say.
3. Put yourself on your child’s level. Kneel, squat down, lie across his bed, lean toward him. This communicates, “I want to know more about you.”
4. Maintain good eye contact. Have you ever talked to someone whose eyes seem to be looking at everything in the room but you? How did that make you feel? That’s not something you want your kids to experience with you. (Did you really put your cell phone away?)
5. Stay relaxed. If you fidget nervously as your daughter is talking, she’ll think you’d rather be somewhere else. That’s counterproductive.
6. Watch your child. Learn to read his nonverbal behavior: posture, body movements, and gestures. Notice frowns, smiles, raised brows, and twisted lips. Listen to voice quality and pitch, emphasis, pauses, and inflections. The way in which your child says something can tell you more than what he is actually saying.
7. Actively give your child nonverbal feedback. Nod. Smile. Raise your eyebrows. Look surprised. These small signals mean more than you realize. They’ll encourage your child to open up even more and let you into his life.
8. The last step to listening is . . . speaking. But, before you give your response, restate in your own words what he has told you. That proves you were listening, and it also gives him the opportunity to say, “Yes, that’s it exactly,” or “No, what I really mean is this …” Remember, the goal of communication is understanding.
There are too many adults who lament that their fathers never cared about them or what they had to say. They felt let down then, and still do even years later. Listening isn’t easy, but it’s worth every bit of effort.