How to listen to your child’s heart language

by | Parenting with Courage

Your children are speaking to you all the time; they are just not using words.  Nor do they necessarily speak a language that we can understand – we need to lean in and listen to what they are saying. With a little practice and care, you can read your child’s heart language and establish and maintain a connection with them.

How do we as parents listen to what our children are saying?  How do we understand what they are telling us?  Remember that we want to connect with our children at every age.  For example, when your baby cries and you pick her up, you are telling her that you notice her and are there to meet her need.

Let’s take a look.  Firstly, I’d like to explore the language of children under the age of 12 and then move on to teenagers.  I’m in the latter phase and only now am I getting a handle on what they are ‘telling’ me.  I am constantly learning.  Sometimes, though I feel that just when I ‘get it,’ everything about them changes again.

So let’s start with the children under the age of 12

Have some fun with your child to connect with them.

When you pick your kids up from school or an activity, don’t start with 20 questions.  Make sure that you connect with them by just letting them settle.

You could open up the communication by saying something like, “I missed you, let me take your school bag” or if they’re like my kids and almost always hungry, “I missed you, here is a sandwich.”

Connect with them through all the ages and stages that they go through. Start early on by encouraging bedside conversations.  When putting your child to bed, set up a routine of ‘debriefing’ the day.  Allow them to process the good and the not so good from the day. Let them set the pace.  At this stage, children function in concrete terms.  Try and steer the discussion towards real conversations and reduce the abstract concepts.

What about the language of teens?

For some parents, it’s harder to connect with their teens.  A great place to communicate with them is in the car or side by side while going for a walk.  When you ask them ‘how are you?’ it is probably like a red flag to a bull.  You are more likely to get a grunt or a shrug, especially if you ask it on the way home from school.  My daughter is way more vocal than my son, but even then I struggle to get an answer from her.  If I temper my curiosity and wait a bit, I am more likely to get an answer.  Better yet, if I ask a few gentle questions in a more roundabout way, I will get some info.

A cup of hot chocolate or coffee works wonders for listening conversations (image here with this caption)

How to listen to your kids

At the appropriate time, ask them how their friends are doing about a relevant topic.  You could also make them a cup of milo or tea and with your hands wrapped around your cup, ask them to tell you something interesting or useful that happened that day.  Don’t make them feel like you are interrogating them.

They are also speaking to us in ways that they don’t even realise.

So, here is the crux. Pay attention.

Pay attention to the music they are listening to, to who they are speaking to over the phone or via snapchat.  Keep a subtle eye on how they are sleeping, eating, exercising or even their activities that they want to do or not do.  Their body language can tell you so much.  As the parent of a teen, I know that it is essential that I stay non-judgemental and available.  You could say something like, “I can see that something is bothering you and I wanted to let you know I’m here if you want to chat.”

What is your goal?

The goal is connection and relationship all the way through into adulthood and beyond.  When your preteen and teen opens up to you, you want them to come away with the thought that they felt better after they spoke to you than before.  You want them to go away with the idea and think that my mom and dad have my best interests in mind and that they love and accept me;  they listen to me.  You want them to come back to you!


Let me know how you make an effort to connect with your children by dropping a comment below.

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