Loving, everyday interactions between a pēpi, dad and mum help to build healthy brains. When parents listen and respond sensitively, their pēpi is more likely to grow up physically and mentally healthy, be better able to learn at school and is more likely to develop empathy for others.

All new parents gets a thrill when their pēpi starts making sounds or says their first word. Roll on four or five years, maybe even a few more kids and we might see that enthusiasm for active listening from parents start to loose some of its energy!

At those times when the newborn is crying, the three year old is grizzling and the five year old is asking another question, you might just feel like a little bit of quiet would be nice!

Talking and listening builds brains and close relationships

Quiet times are important in a household of young children especially for helping them to concentrate, relax or to calm down situations. But we can never forget how important talking with and listening to kids is for building strong relationships and also developing their sense of self-worth.

If we forget this and we either ignore our child’s attempts to kōrero with us, or we shut them down before they’ve even begun we might be giving them the message that they’re not important, or what they have to say has no value. Listening to them and giving them our full attention when they want to tell us something is not only helping to build healthy brain structures but also their self-esteem.

Sometimes when the ‘chatty’ kid wants to tell us every last detail of their day or about the programme they’ve been watching on TV we can easily slip into ‘half pai’ listening mode where we’re not really taking anything in.

So when we are really busy or distracted, or need to give our full attention to something else at that moment, tell them that.

“Sorry I’m just going to ‘make this call’, ‘finish chopping this wood’ ‘read this email,’ and then I’m all yours.”

Kids can suss out if we’re genuine or not, so remember to follow through. If they have too many experiences of parents not ‘walking their talk’ they will eventually give up trying to communicate. That’s something that we don’t want to happen especially as our children get older. 

What about when everyone wants to talk at once?

That can be hard especially when we are trying to give each of them an ear. We might try having:

  • a talking ‘item’ and when you’re holding it, it’s your turn to speak and everyone else’s turn to listen
  • a set time with the talking item, using a phone or clock to keep an eye on the time
  • a system for who goes first – for example today might be the eldest, next time the youngest, this gives everyone the sense that they’re important
  • ask your children to focus on their own listening skills by asking them things like 'what do you think pēpi is trying to tell us with all those noises she’s making?’
  • starter questions to help offer some focus on the sharing like – ‘what made you laugh/sad/happy today?’
  • starter statements for them to finish like ‘today I laughed when…I felt sad when….I was happy when…’

The talkers and the listeners

Some kids naturally love to talk, while others will be a lot quieter and may need some extra encouragement to speak up. To make sure they don’t miss out on opportunities for sharing or are talked over, give starter questions or statements a try.

Try and avoid filling the space for the quieter kids. It could be that they need more time to think about what they have to say and if we jump in too soon we might interrupt their thoughts.

Instead try some non-verbal encouraging like:

  • moving physically closer to them
  • giving and maintaining eye contact with them
  • smiling – showing them we’re interested and anticipating what they have to say
  • head nodding in response to anything they do say and encourage ‘what else?’

 When we really listen to our kids it helps us:

  • gauge how their language development is progressing
  • show them we value and are interested in them
  • to understand them better and what they might be thinking
  • work out how they’re feeling about different situations or experiences in their life
  • to know what areas they might need help or encouragement with.


Find lots more tips for parents.

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