Listen to the sound of success

“Mommy, can I walk the dog?” “No dear, you are not old enough.” “Can I climb the tree, dad?” “No, it’s too dangerous.” “I want to tie my shoes myself.” “We don’t have time for that! We are in a hurry.” “Can we play?” “Later, Sweetheart.”

Do these sentences sound familiar? For many of us they are right out of our daily family lives. We hear our children and their wishes and invitations, but we don’t REALLY hear them. What we actually hear are changes in our plans, which we really can’t manage at the moment, so we listen without really listening. We are too busy being busy that we often miss the small initiatives from our children that are actually very important statements. It is a shame, not only because we take away the possibility of getting to know our children a bit better, but we also miss an opportunity of fostering a great sense of self-esteem in our children. The truth is that if we put on our “big listening ears” and start listening more closely, we will actually match our child’s needs much more accurately.

In my new book: Play The Danish Way – A Guide to Raising Balanced, Resilient and Healthy Children through Play, I address why we should be more aware of our listening patterns and focus much more on what our children actually say when they are having conversations, or when they are playing. By giving our children a free and playful space to unfold in and by trusting in them, we show that we believe in their abilities and sense of self, which is crucial in developing resilient and happy children.

The question is: how do we do that? The answer to this is quite simple. We let them play a lot and we listen. Listen for initiatives by observing them while they play and take them seriously, when they say something to us. It is important, if we want them to feel strong both physically and mentally. They will probably come up with something that fits their nearest development zone, and that is a great clue for us to take advantage of so we can help them develop a greater sense of agency and independence. Their confidence will grow stronger when mastering something. This will equip them for whatever bumps they may encounter on their journey in life.

So the next time we hear our children take an initiative to try something new, let them. Instead of distracting questions, say: “You want to walk the dog, go ahead. I’ll show you how to hold the leash and you can give it a quick walk.” “Really, I would love to see that.” “Fantastic, you can tie my shoes as well.” “Give me 5 minutes, and I’d love to play a little with you before we prepare dinner.”


Iben Sandahl

Iben Sandahl comes from Denmark and is an internationally-renowned public speaker, best-selling author, psychotherapist and educator. She has more than 20 years of experienced insight into child psychology and education, which in a most natural way anchor the Danish way of practicing parenthood. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Salon, El Païs, Reader’s Digest, Greater Good Science, Elle and many more - and her main mission is to help parents raise happy and confident children. She writes for Psychology Today ( ) and leads an European Erasmus financed project on how to implement empathy in schools and institutions all over Europe.

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