Improving Active Listening to Support and Encourage

When children struggle with problematic issues, like drinking, drug use, promiscuity, self-harm, anxiety, and depression, we can help support them through active listening. Active listening skills can also help us support other families as we walk through these challenges together. When people feel “heard” and validated, they often feel supported. Active listening is one of the best skills that we can use to show others that we care.

What Is Active Listening?

Listening to others can often appear to be a “passive” activity. We can quickly lose focus, get distracted, or unintentionally appear as if we are not listening. Sometimes, we can appear to the speaker as if we are not listening to them when we are! Active listening skills give us the tools to show others that we are listening to them.

What Are the Benefits of Active Listening?

These are some of the benefits of using active listening skills in your relationships with your kids and others:

  • Improve emotional connections
  • Build trust
  • Identify issues
  • Brainstorm solutions
  • Understand the other person’s perspective
  • Establish mutual support in peer-to-peer recovery

Remember that while some people appear to be naturally good at listening to others, active listening is a skill that anyone can learn to improve their relationships.

The Basics of Active Listening

There are several ways to show others that you are listening to them. One of the most important is eye contact. Eye contact shows a person that they have your full attention. The point is not to stare at the other person the entire time. However, just being aware of the need for eye contact can help you naturally integrate eye contact into a conversation. 

When dealing with conflict or uncomfortable topics, we might not make eye contact with the other person. If we discuss something that we find embarrassing or difficult to talk about, we might subconsciously avoid eye contact. These feelings often make us focus on ourselves rather than the other person. By being aware of this, we can bring ourselves back out of shame or guilt to engage the other person by looking them in the eye. Eye contact helps us stay in the moment.

Emotional reactions or displaying shock can make the speaker feel shame about what they are discussing. By using neutral expressions, we can help the person feel more at ease. Displaying neutral facial expressions can show the person that we are not judging them. Instead, neutral expressions show an openness to let them express their feelings without discouragement.

We can also use open gestures to show that we are listening without judgment. These gestures are often displayed by things that we are not doing. For example, folding our arms can convey a “closed off” or defensive mindset. Being relaxed and open shows the speaker that we are welcoming what they are saying.

Cues of affirmation show that we are listening with either nonverbal or verbal expressions. We can nod our heads up-and-down to invite the person to continue or show that we understand. We can also say, “go on,” “tell more me,” or “I hear you.” Affirmation shows that we are allying ourselves with the person speaking.

Summary statements help the person know that we have heard and thought about what they said. We can put their thoughts into our own words, saying things like, “you seem to feel upset about failing that test,” “it sounds like your friend hurt your feelings,” or “you sound sad about your break up.” Following these statements, the person may say, “yes, that’s what I’m feeling” or “well, not exactly..” Summary statements will help us develop follow-up questions to clarify our understanding.

When we do not understand or need more information, we can use open-ended clarifying questions to hear more from the speaker. Clarifying questions can encourage the speaker to dive deeper or say more about their struggles. These questions also show that we are listening and that we care. We can say things like, “I’m not sure I understand, tell me more about..” or “How does it make you feel when..?” 

Seek to Understand First

Often, when people come to us with an issue, we might try to give advice or tips to help them with the problem before hearing things through. However, most often, jumping into giving advice cuts the other person off from speaking. The goal of active listening is to understand the other person’s perspective. Once we know what they are expressing or going through, we can share similar experiences from our past, ask how we can help them, or simply thank them for opening up to us. More often than not, most people just want to feel heard and supported.

Active listening skills can help you improve the relationships in your life. When kids come to you with a problem, you can show that you care for them by using active listening skills. During support groups or meeting other families of kids with problematic issues, you can support one another by seeking to understand one another. We might often forget to employ active listening when confronted with uncomfortable topics or when the other person displays emotions. We might forget to use eye contact or unintentionally shy away from the conversation due to our lack of ease regarding the issues. If you have a child struggling with serious problems, like cutting, drinking, drug use, depression, anxiety, promiscuity, or other concerns, remember that you are not alone. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here to help you get your kid back. Call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.

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