Try a little ‘sideways listening’

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We all know that good communication between parents and children is essential at every age. It’s as much about listening as it is about talking (in fact maybe more so, as I used to say to my kids,” Why do you think you have two ears but only one mouth?”!) The temptation for us parents is to think we’re the ones who should be doing the talking and our children should be listening. However, the message I try to get across to parents is that that it’s the listening you do as a parent that’s the key.

With many of the families I work with we use what’s commonly called ‘Special Time’.This involves setting aside a short time (5 minutes) each day for child-led activity. During this time parents give their full attention to their child; let them take the lead in the play and conversation; watch; wait and listen; giving helpful comment and acknowledgement rather than questioning along the way. You can read more about this in the post Being in the moment

Getting into a regular habit of individual time with your child is good to do when they are little, but will help set up a pattern which should pay huge dividends as your child grows up. It will be much easier to really listen to your teenager and for them to know you are routinely available if you’ve had this regular one to one listening time with them as they were growing up.

A recent article in The Guardian weekend supplement caught my eye and it’s well worth a read here.  In it the author, Joan McFadden, talks about the power of sideways talking and listening “Children need regular opportunities to talk solo to their parents. The best way for this to happen is ‘sideways listening’ -the kinds of chats that just bubble up when out running, walking, driving, baking or making.” Every child is different and may choose a totally different type of activity than their siblings, but whatever you decide upon it’s the individual one to one time with you that is the real treat.

The author quotes the family psychologist Rachel Andrew who suggests “The aim is to make this into a habit as your children will know that they can rely on this time with you and that it’s all about them and how important they are to you…. This is actively nurturing the relationship and giving your child confidence to come to you and talk about anything, from all the little things that make-up their day to the possibility of more worrying things”.

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It’s great to know that something you can start on a small scale, when your children are little can reap rewards well into the future. What might start off as your Speech and Language Therapy home practice can become a regular habit, which will have real impact for you and your child as they grow and develop into teenagers. As the author of the article suggests “The possible benefits of this approach seem to far outweigh the amount time she [Rachel Andrew] recommends putting in. “

Sideways listening ….. definitely worth a try.