The art of Active Listening

Tips on how to be an active listener

Communication occurs on so many levels. It’s in our facial expression. It’s in our posture. It’s in the fact that we care enough about the person speaking to stop what we’re doing, position at their level, look them in the eye, and listen, really listen to them. After these things come the actual words of a conversation.

In a stimulating environment communication does develop naturally, and in a wide variety of ways. Your child will be stamped with an imprint of family life from day one. Create a warm home - express love through tones, words and actions.

There are lots of steps you can take as a parent to reinforce the development of good communication avenues as your child grows. One of these is the technique of ‘active listening’.

Active listening is where you clearly illustrate to the other person that their message has been heard and understood.

This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Position yourself for active listening. Sit still, face the other person.
  • Look the other person in the eye and nod to show you understand.
  • Paraphrase what was said back to the other person.

Always support your child’s efforts to communicate by being interested in what they’re saying. It’s about listening, sharing and understanding. Share stories, fears, tears, and smiles. Show that you value them and the fact they are working hard to make sense of the world - cuddles, love and affection are crucial at all ages! 

Active Listening with Babies

What's more fun than chatting with a newborn!
What's more fun than chatting with a newborn!

Babies are wonderful – the way they track their caregiver’s every move and light up in delight when they catch your eye. Every baby differs – so take a note of the unique ways that your baby communicates — aside from their different cries look for things like facial expressions, gestures and body positions. If you can tune into their non verbal cues you’ll have a better awareness when your child is hungry, tired or stressed (look for clues such as baby turning away from you).

When he or she starts to goo, ga, and babble - imitate the noises back. It’s not baby talk, its called 'Infant Directed Speech' and is vital to reinforce their language learning (and it’s fun too!)



Active Listening with Toddlers

Listen to what your child is trying to tell you about and keep rewarding efforts with praise and active listening. Extend their ideas and vocabulary (for example if your child points to a ball fill in the gap “yes that’s a ball. Great pointing!”) Using a technique like this will extend language skills and also help clarify their thinking. It also lets them know you understand what they said!

Tell them straight away when they get it right – nothing succeeds likes success. If you don’t notice they are trying extra hard who will! Be specific in your praise - children need to know exactly what they just nailed.  Was it the word? (“good talking”) or was it the expression? (“wow you said that in a nice polite voice – well done!”)


Active Listening with Preschoolers

As your child gets older he or she will be better able to express their desires through quite a large vocabulary. They still have a way to go to express their feelings. Although they probably know rage when they feel it you can still label it for them (“you’re feeling angry, take a deep breath”).

Create lots of opportunities for communication every day. Talk with your child about life – your routines and family – allow them some input into how their day pans out, even if it’s just what clothes they get to put on. This lets them know they are a valid part of a team – your team. And resist the auto response “yes hon” when your child goes through the non stop chatter stage! Keep actively listening. A child can spot a switch off a mile away!


If a child is surrounded by active listeners they’ll be one too. Children who can communicate appropriately (remember and use other children’s names, look their friends in the eye, and other techniques like this) are generally well liked at school. And these skills are learned from their role models - their early caregivers.

Your child needs to know they matter, and that the people closest to them value what they’ve got to say, and care about their stories and feelings. Listen, really actively listen to your kids. You might learn something!

Liz xx

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