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Listening to Your Teen

10 skills to help parents improve communication with their tween or teen

Most kids seem to possess random or selective listening skills. You ask him to clean his room or how his day was: Silence. You suggest dropping him off at the mall or buying him something: Amazingly attentive.

Well, you've only got yourself to blame. Listening, like everything in parenting, hinges greatly your behavior. Children as young as 3 can identify if someone's listening to them and is interested in what they have to say. That's why you must offer the same attentiveness you seek. Here's how.

1. Stop what you're doing. Your tween or teen might not realize you can skillfully multitask, so he could question your ability to listen to him while also making dinner. Kids like to know they're important enough to have a few undivided minutes. Capturing your complete attention encourages him to recount the day's events or ask difficult questions.

2. Timing can be everything. Schedule a special time to listen. Give each of your kids the security and respect of knowing that they can have special time with each parent to discuss school, hobbies, problems, etc. The chance to share intimate time to talk to you without the interruption of siblings or other distractions builds his confidence in your co-communication skills.

3. Body language says the most. When you're having a discussion with your teen, demonstrate non-verbally that you're there to listen. Don't sit on the edge of your seat as if you're prepared to leave. Look him in the eyes. Nod encouragingly. And remember that observing his demeanor can provide insight into how he feels about the situation, too, despite what he's saying.

4. Don't interrupt him. It's hard to fight the temptation to jump in, interject your opinion or ask pertinent questions. But allowing him the chance to finish his part shows not only your interest in his point of view, but also can uncover less-obvious messages in the conversation. His entire story may provide the answers you're seeking. Hold on.

5. Resist correcting his speech. Perfect grammar isn't always the top priority in a conversation. Pick and choose the best times to remind him of the proper parts and usage of speech.

6. Schedule regular family meetings. Create opportunities for conversation by having meetings or pre-dinner chats. If there aren't regular times set for talking and sharing, it becomes even harder for teens to feel open.

7. Ask him how and when he knows you're really listening. A kid's perspective often is drastically different from an adult's. For light day-to-day sharing, your teen might prefer talking to you casually while you're folding clothes. Find out if he prefers to sit down, take a walk – or what unconscious signals you send to let him know you're interested in what he has to say.

8. Reinforce you're listening by repeating. "I understand you've got a lot of pressure with school, work and basketball ... " tells him you did in fact hear and process what he's trying to convey. Phrases such as "I know" and "I see" don't emphasize that you're hearing his side of the conversation.

9. Never ridicule. React sensitively to what your teen shares with you. If you don't agree, tell him politely and diplomatically – or you could forever push him away. Remember: Your child doesn't have to agree with you about everything, and he'll make choices that you won't agree with. As long as those choices are age-appropriate and don't risk his life, you need to allow your teen the freedom to make mistakes. Hopefully, he'll learn from them.

10. Don't follow-up with a lecture. Addressing an uncomfortable topic is especially difficult for kids. Between balancing the pressures of mastering a variety of new skills and forging relationships with peers and siblings, they don't want to muster the courage to confront you – only to be immediately rebuffed with a lecture.

And if you're hearing details about your teen's peers, feelings or ideals that make you feel uncomfortable, you're doing an excellent job of listening!

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