Joel Toombs suggests ways in which you can boost your conversation in 2024


Why does my nine year old always want to discuss the deepest and most random topics at 10pm when a) she ought to be asleep and b) I’m exhausted and finally want to start my own day for the next hour or two before I go to bed myself? It’s so hard to compose myself in those moments enough to show her I genuinely care about listening to her when I have a long list of stuff to get done.

Does this scenario ring any bells? “I AM listening, I promise” as we continue to tidy away dishes, clothes, toys and schoolbags whilst cooking tea, feeding the pets, replying to a meme on Facebook and ordering a yoga mat from Amazon… The problem (one of the problems) with this is that when it comes to actually wanting a decent conversation with your child they may now be zoned out and uninterested. The old adage is that 80% of communication is non-verbal. In the constant, gruelling struggle to be a loving, present and, frankly, sane parent we may often end up saying one thing and demonstrating another with our body language.

What can we do better as parents when it comes to successful communication and connection with our children? (By the way, I started ‘talk time’ an hour before bedtime so she can get all her questions out and then bedtime is not for asking questions)

A child that feels listened to will be better behaved, develop quicker and feel more loved. The flip side is of course, children who don’t feel properly listened to will be quicker to get angry, harder to connect with and feel less understood and appreciated… I would say that active listening and positive affirmation are THE most crucial things we can offer our offspring on a daily basis. It simply works absolute miracles for your relationship and the health and growth of your young pride and joy.

‘Active listening’ is about being fully engaged with the process of listening – not getting distracted, not dismissing their ideas or feelings or speaking over them. It also minimises the possibility for misunderstandings and therefore arguments.

Here’s some tips on using active listening as a staple in your parenting toolbox.

  1. Make eye contact. Maybe even get down to their level. Put down whatever you are doing. Practise doing this even if they are just asking for a biscuit.
  2. Do not even begin to formulate a reply until they have finished speaking. This is really hard and takes practise; but forces you to not assume you know what they are going to say but concentrate on what they actually are saying.
  3. Don’t interrupt. Or finish their sentences. Or be too quick to jump in when there is a pause. Sometimes it may feel painfully slow for them to make their point, but this is essential in their learning development; to practise forming ideas and then getting them out. Allow there to be silent pauses – there may be more to come.
  4. Repeat back to them what they have said. This shows yourself that you have been listening and stops you floating away. It shows them you love them enough to listen carefully. It also clarifies that you have both understood the same thing and there are no crossed wires.
  5. Do not dismantle their arguments and ideas and especially NEVER before acknowledging and exploring their feelings about it all first.
  6. Ask open ended questions designed to allow them to explore their own thoughts. Even while they are still speaking they may not know what they mean, are trying to say, or what they want or feel. Help them work it out. Realise that this conversation is often less about you receiving information than your child having the space to explore communicating it.
  7. Ask open ended questions. Eg. What are you feeling right now? How did you feel when that happened? If you were in charge what would you have said to that person? Then what happened? Tell me a bit more about that? What did you think about that? What would you most like to happen? If you were me what would you suggest?