to Your Kids
by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, December 14, 2004
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How are you
listening to your kids?
If you're one of those rare "born listeners" who can get almost
anyone to open up, you're lucky. If you're like the rest of us,
you can probably improve your listening skills.
Maybe you're frustrated that your kids don't give you a chance
to listen. Do you get a one-word response when you ask how the
day went at school? "Fine." And don't your instincts often tell
you that "fine" is a wildly inaccurate description of the day?
You might be making one of the mistakes I made for years. I used
to interrupt. A lot. And I didn't realize what I was doing. It's
also easy to lecture - and to have an answer for everything.
But look at this from your son or daughter's perspective.
Sometimes it's hard to describe a situation in words. Things are
often more complicated than you can convey in a couple of
sentences. If a person you talk to routinely interrupts you or
criticizes you or tells you what to do, you may feel he's making
pronouncements on a situation he doesn't fully understand. And
that can train you not to confide in that person.
So, you might be unintentionally training your child not to
share things with you.
Attentive listening generates respect. Several years ago, I
interviewed a number of successful public relations people for a
documentary on PR counseling. Hal Burson - founding chairman of
Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest PR firm - told an
interesting story, "I have had any number of experiences
throughout my own work where I would go visit a CEO, spend 30,
40 minutes, an hour with that CEO, and he would do all of the
talking. And I would ask a question every now and then, and then
two days later the reports would get back to me, 'that guy
Burson's a really smart guy'."
Maybe we should counsel our kids more like CEOs and pay
attention in a way that gains their "listening respect" before
we offer advice or direction.
Think of it as taking the long road and not the short cut. In
the short cut, we listen just enough to get a picture of the
situation and then jump in to make our comments and provide our
When we take the long road, we may ask questions to draw out the
speaker or guide the conversation, but we hold off on
conclusions. Even when we feel a
burning desire, we bite back interjections such as, "What did
you do that for?" or "You should have." or "Next time you need
This can be hard. We're the adults. But maybe that's part of the
problem. As long as we treat our kids like - well, kids - it's
tempting to just tell them what to do. We've got the experience!
If they'd just listen to us!
But even good advice can roll off kids like a quick shower runs
off a lawn. When we really listen and ask questions that can
help our kids come up with solutions on their own, it's more
like a long shower that soaks in and reaches the roots.
When I was growing up, some friends of mine had parents who were
good listeners. They'd hear me out without assuming they knew
the end of the story. It felt like they were listening to me as
they'd listen to another adult. It made me want to act more like
an adult in my conversation - and really think things through.
There's tremendous power in listening. Sometimes we just need to
talk something through to understand it better ourselves. What a
gift it is to find someone who doesn't automatically start
offering solutions as though our problems have easy answers that
we just aren't smart enough to think of ourselves.
And after we've been fully attentive, we'll probably find our
children are more willing to listen to the subtle guidance we're
bursting to offer. We could even (GASP) ask if they would like
to hear our thoughts. Of course, for serious issues where we
feel it's required, we can always lay down the law. And maybe
even that will work better when our kids think they've had a
fair hearing and that we understand what we're talking about.
The sooner we start - and the younger our kids - the better. It
can be hard to regain the "listening trust" of a teenager who's
learned to be very careful responding to parental inquiries.
(Mom's asking a question! SHIELDS UP!) But it can be done.
That's my 2 cents worth.
Hey, thanks for listening. And for not interrupting. You know,
after this little talk, I realize - you're a really smart
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the
video "MANNERS FOR THE REAL WORLD: Basic Social Skills" and a
series of videos on Asperger Syndrome. You can find more
articles on his website at
Copyright 2004 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By
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