Why is the sky blue? Do bees hum because they don’t know the words? Why do three-year-olds ask 10,000 questions a day? We know, we know — kids can drive you crazy with all their questions. The reason three-year-olds ask questions is simple: they only have about 1,000 words in their arsenal. They figured out that, by asking questions, they will get more words — ammunition — with which to come back at you. So says Susie Lorraine, a Certified Speech-Language Pathologist.

Words, Words, Words Matter

A child of six may be able to speak only about 2,600 words, but recognizes 20,000 to 24,000 words, says Lorraine. If you as the parent do not listen and respond to those 2,600 words, in all their weird permutations, your child will not develop as well as if you listened and answered.

A 12-year-old will know about 50,000 words, but only if the people she or he most cares about (which, we hope, is you, Dad!) interact with her or him every day. You listen. You respond. You joke, play, scold, riddle, question, cajole, coach, and tease. You listen, you answer, and your child blossoms.

Give Your Child Your Full Attention

The first rule for being a better listening parent is to give your child your full attention. Kids have not mastered all the subtle signals of body language. They do not care that you are reading emails, responding to texts, or trying to go to the toilet alone. They have something they need to tell you.

Listen. Put down the telephone. Turn away from the computer, advise experts at The Tot. Send the strong signal to your daughter or son that she or he, above all, matters most to you.

Tiny Children, Tiny Voices

Little children have very tiny voices. Their little vocal chords can easily be overpowered by the lawn mower, television, barking dogs, older siblings, and just the regular hub-bub of a busy Virginia household.

For many parents, a quiet kid would be a blessing, and there is help for that problem. Try getting their hearing checked, ignoring their loud voices, and teaching them indoor-versus-outdoor.

But for many more Virginia parents, the tiny voice becomes problematic, making listening by you and your child’s teachers really difficult. Experts at Young Parents recommend reading aloud to your child, using character voices in different registers and volumes. Your child will mimic those voices. Other tips:

  • Get your child’s throat examined by a medical professional to rule out injured vocal chords
  • Teach your child to breathe into her or his voice, just as attorneys do in filling courtrooms with booming, authoritative voices
  • Encourage informal social situations requiring your child to speak up; enlist extended family (grandparents, aunts, funny Uncle Jeff, and so on) to help
  • Play with tin can and string telephones to encourage voice projection

Once your child is speaking clearly and loudly, listen to whatever she has to say, quietly, without interrupting, advises All Pro Dad. Avoid cutting off your kids mid-word. Help them think and speak in complete thoughts.

Validate Your Child

It’s a fancy word, validate, but everyone needs validation. You may not be the super-duper fixer-upper, but sometimes all your child wants is your ear. Let her unburden herself. Listen without judging, and without trying to solve every problem.

Attorneys listen to their clients sometimes say the most outlandish, inappropriate things. If you want your child to trust you as a teen, then listen to him when he is five. Listen to his imagined tales of heroism and horror, because at 15, he may need to tell you about real concerns.

Try these two scenarios. Your daughter just broke up with her first grade-school crush. What do you say:

  • “You are too good for him, and better off without him.”
  • “Being hurt by someone is never fun; being sad about it is perfectly okay.” (Bingo!)

Your teenage son just dented his rebuilt Camaro. What do you say:

  • “Bummer, dude! Get over it.”
  • “I know how much time you put into that car, and how much you love it; could I help you pull the dent out?” (psst)

Avoid encouraging self-pity, but acknowledge the real emotional pain, no matter how slight the issue seems to you. Let your child know you listened.

Identify Strong Role Models (and Be One!)

Perhaps most important, be a role model of good listening, clear speaking, and assertive communicating. Point out good listeners like attorneys, police officers, guidance counselors, and others.

Point out assertive speakers, too, so your children know they must speak up and be heard. Examples include activists, actors, and (ahem) attorneys.

At The Firm For Men we are known for our listening skills. Please contact us online, or better, telephone us at 757-383-9184. We will listen to your concerns, pay attention to your needs, and hear what you have to say.