Learn to Be an Active Listener

Have you heard of “Active Listening”?   They have seminars about it in workplaces. Police officers, counselors, ministers, rabbis and priests do it.  The U.S. State Department teaches it.  Or you might even see a program about Active Listening on late, late night TV like I did a few weeks ago while cleaning up the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning.

Kathy Ellerbeck, MD, FAAP

Kathy Ellerbeck, MD, FAAP

What IS “active listening” – and why might it matter to you and to your baby?   There are some key elements that aren’t only good for communication with the adults in your life, but for babies as well – with a little adaptation.  This is what I learned (that should apply to babies and toddlers and not just to my husband).

Key Element 1:  Pay Attention.   It’s very easy to be thinking about all the things you need to be doing – but paying attention, being “in the moment” …speaks loudly to your baby!    Try not to be distracted and try to pay attention to your baby’s body language.  You can’t do it 24/7, but try to give some dedicated “being in the moment time” for 30 minutes every day.

Key Element 2:  Show That You’re Listening.  When your toddler is beginning to talk – you may not understand everything he’s saying.   But show that you’re listening.  Nod occasionally.  Smile and show facial expressions.  Encourage your little speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes and uh-huh.”  This works for husbands too.

Key Element 3:  Provide Feedback.   As a listener – your job is to understand what is being said.  Asking questions and reflecting back what (you think) is said shows that you respect the speaker.  So, you might say “it sounds as if you are saying…”   Not so easy with a baby, but when you read your baby’s cues – you can talk about it!  “I think you are trying to tell me you are hungry!”   The more words your baby hears, the more vocabulary she will have by the time she is three.  So – listen (Key Element 2) – but also talk a lot to your little one.

Key Element 4:  Defer Judgment.  Interrupting can really frustrate the person (big or little) who is trying to tell you what they think.  And it’s really hard not to interrupt, especially when you don’t agree with the husband or the oppositional toddler (or the oppositional teenager for that matter).  But sometimes you have to wait to get your point across.  Then, for a toddler – sometimes it’s as easy as re-directing him to a new topic (toy, activity, whatever).

Key Element 5:  Respond Appropriately.  When your conversation isn’t going well – it’s important to not get angry (breathe deeply) and wait until you feel ready to respond.  Being a good “listener”, and then responding appropriately – whether to your baby’s cues or your toddler’s first words or your partner’s point of view shows respect.  And we all need that.   As your baby grows into a toddler and then a preschooler – he’ll imitate not just the things he see you do, but the ways he hears you communicate.

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