Know! To Give The Gift of Active Listening

Still looking for the ideal gift for your tween or teen this holiday? Look no further, the perfect gift has been right under (and around) your nose the entire time, literally. We are talking the gift of enhanced communication when talking with your child, especially on the topic of alcohol and other drugs.

Positive parental communication is known to not only help prevent youth from taking that first drink, smoke or pill, but it can also be effective in halting drug use among youth who have begun experimenting.

When it comes to your family’s communication foundation, you must create an environment where your child feels comfortable sharing and is willing to listen. Regular conversations between parent and child that involve active listening can assist. Regardless of the topic, when children feel like the important adults in their lives are listening and that their words matter, they are much more likely to be open in return. Keep in mind that active listening doesn’t just involve your ears; it requires your feedback.

Active listening is not staring down your child and nodding your head in agreement to his/her every word, as some may imagine. Eye contact is important and occasional nodding is ok, but there are additional ways to show your child you are engaged in the conversation and that his/her words are important to you:

  • Keep It OPEN: Be clear that you welcome your child’s thoughts and questions, even if it is not in line with what you are saying. Then be sure to follow through: Maintain your cool or know that your child will mentally, if not physically, check out. 
  • Be Aware of Your Body Language: Actions often speak louder than words. Consider this an opportunity to show you are listening. No need to fall off your chair, but do try leaning in toward your child as he/she talks.
  • Practice Patience/Demonstrate Respect/Don’t Interrupt: While it is tempting to jump right in when something has been said that you don’t agree with or isn’t factually correct, you must momentarily bite your tongue and wait for your turn to speak. 
  • Watch your Tone: Steer clear of preaching, as it is likely to go in one ear and out the other. Know that how you say something is just as important as what you say.
  • Ask Follow-Up Questions: This sends the message that you are listening and that you are interested. Remind Your Child of Your Expectations: Make it clear that while you fully support an open discussion, your expectation for him/her to not engage in underage drinking or other drug use remains firm; and that if a poor choice is made, there will be negative consequences to follow.
  • Close on a Positive Note: Praise your child for sharing his/her thoughts and for being open to yours. Remind him/her that as questions pop up or if he/she wants to talk more about this or any other topic, you are always there.

The gift of active listening, while it may seem simplistic, takes patience and practice. You are encouraged however, to keep your eye on the prize (a well-balanced, substance-free youth), as the benefits both you and your child are likely to gain from these ongoing, positive interactions will be well worth the effort.

Source: Keith A. King PhD., C.H.E.S., and Rebecca A Vidourek, Ph.D., C.H.E.S.: Enhancing Parent - Child Communication about Drug Use. April 2011.