Patients and Families

Tuning In to Your Kids

The art of listening—it's one of the most important skills parents need to communicate with their children. Most parents lead hectic lives, so it can be tough to give kids their full attention. But doing that at least once a day can make a big difference. 

Sometimes children need to know that they are being heard, especially if something is bothering them. It's easy for parents to assume they know what their kids are thinking and to offer advice on solving their problems, but it's important to help children manage their own emotions and to give them opportunities to solve problems on their own.

For example, a child tells his parent that someone at school made fun of him. The parent shouldn't jump in and offer a solution. Instead, he or she should give a supportive response that reflects how the child feels, like “That must have hurt your feelings.” When a parent avoids jumping in with a quick fix for the upset child, the child is allowed to relieve his stress and take responsibility for his problem. Reflecting a child's feelings is sometimes all it takes to meet his emotional needs. A simple statement like “You seem sad today” lets a child know that the parent has seen her hurt. If a child has a problem, the parent might ask what might make things better. Let kids know their opinions count.

A parent's body language is as important as the words that are said. Mom or Dad should turn toward the child, get down on his level and make eye contact or put an arm around him. The child will be more comfortable opening up if his mom can give her full attention. But if Mom can't listen just then, she should tell him when she'll be available.

Many children behave aggressively when something is bothering them. When children are able to express their feelings, they are less likely to hit or become aggressive. For example, a young child may yell and scream if she can't figure out how to play a new game. Her parent could say, “I can see you're really frustrated” and let her respond. If the parent can describe the child's feelings in words, she'll know her parent recognizes her frustration. Once she's calm, she will be better able to work it out or to ask for help.

If parents listen to their kids when they're young, the kids will be more likely to turn to their parents during their teen years when problems may become more serious. When children know they can release their strong feelings in a supportive home, they feel secure enough to express themselves honestly. The trust that is shared forms the basis for a closer parent-child relationship.

It's important for parents to build time into each day to really listen to their kids—whether driving together in the car, tossing a ball in the yard or talking at bedtime. If parents can fine-tune their listening skills and reflect their children's feelings, they'll be better able to tune in to their kids' lives.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC offers Positive Parenting classes and other parenting workshops. For more information, call the Community Education Department at 412-692-7105. Current classes are listed on this Web site.

Last Update
September 11, 2008
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Last Update
September 11, 2008
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