Active Listening in Parenthood

Kelly Curtis - Professional speaker, writer and counselor*** Monthly Feature Column ***

Positively Speaking
Building Assets in your Kids

by Kelly Curtis, M.S., author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things.

When you ask your kids, “How was your day today?” do you often get stuck with a one-word answer? Ahhh, the joys of parenthood!

Search Institute has identified Positive family communication as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.

Here are some ideas for using active listening skills when your child is sharing their day with you.

Paraphrase – restate what your child tells you in your own words, without a judging tone;
Ask clarifying questions using how, what, when, why and where;
Reflect feelings – guess at feelings your child has about the event he or she is talking about
Use minimal encouragers – simple responses, or nodding your head to encourage your child to keep talking are often more effective than anything else. Often what you don’t say is more important than what you do say.


Remember that sometimes the best time to talk is when your child initiates the conversation. This may not happen immediately after school. When your child strikes up a conversation, try to stop and take a moment to pay attention.

Sometimes side-by-side activities that you do together tend to be ripe for beginning conversation – driving the car, raking leaves, washing dishes, cleaning a room, or going for a walk.

How do you keep open communication with your kids?

Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.

Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.


  1. says

    A friend and I were JUST talking about this. We have to be available (like in the car — just sitting and not always talking on the phone), so that IF they feel like talking, we’re ready.

    And that’s often a big IF in the tween/teen years.

  2. says

    This is so great! I like the tips shared. We do the “Highs/Lows” at dinner almost every night. Our kids are really little, but they really enjoy this. They also seem like they really want to talk to us- even at such a young age. I know that as they get older, it will be harder. Hopefully we will be able to keep those lines of communication open.

  3. stacy says

    It’s really hard when they become teens (working on my 3rd one!) because they are trying to separate from you and can sometimes see the questions as an intrusion. I find that just being around them and letting them start the conversation works for me.

  4. says

    Thanks for the tips, they’re very helpful. Even at 3 and 4 years old, when asked how was school my two say “Okay.” It’s tough to get anything more out of them, but I’ll give these a try.

  5. says

    These are some great tips. I especially like paraphrasing, it lets your child know that you are listening and understand how they are feeling.

  6. says

    These are great tips, but how do you get your kids to talk, especially as they get older? I don’t have the answer, but I remember when I was a teenager most of the conversations with my mom happened during cooking or cleaning up, when there were just the two of us in the kitchen :)

    • says

      Exactly, Yelena – I think the side-by-side activities best lend themselves to conversation. In the car is great, but also any activities that have you focusing on something other than each others’ faces.

  7. says

    In the car, in the car! My boys will talk to me in the car, I think not so much because I’m available, but because they can do so without having to actually FACE me. Sitting side by side, there’s still a sense of togetherness, but embarrassing subjects can be broached without them having to look at my eyes.


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