Slow down so you can hear.

by Dr. Laura Markham

“To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words.  Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.” — Peter Senge
Many parents ask their child how their day was and hear “fine.” They wonder how to get their child to share anything meaningful.

And yet many children say they wish they could talk to their parents more, but their parents don’t listen. Or they overreact. Or they just wouldn’t understand.

Most of all, parents are too busy. Moving too fast.

But slow listening is a skill we can develop. We can start by slowing down. One role model is Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is known for listening deeply and moving slowly. He’s been described as a cross between a snail, a cloud and a piece of heavy machinery.

I could never be called a snail given my preferred pace, but I do aspire to the lightness of a cloud and the powerful presence of a piece of heavy machinery. Lately, though, I’ve been realizing that moving more slowly might be a precondition for that lightness of touch and depth of presence.

In fact, reclaiming our inner still point might be an essential part of showing up as a peaceful parent for our children. Some questions I’m finding useful on that journey:

  • Does slowing down make everything in your life deeper, including your listening?
  • Can you use your pause button to bring your deepest attention every time you interact with your family today?
  • What do you need to do for yourself today so that you can slow down enough to really hear your child?
  • What happens if you just sit for three minutes with the intention to feel a state of peace?
  • How does your child’s behavior change when you slow down and really listen?

For today, try this powerful little experiment:

Slow down, so you can listen.

That’s it. Just slow down and pay attention. For instance, you might:

  1. Pause before you take any action.
  2. Find that deeper silence and stillness within yourself.
  3. Notice the sensations in your body.
  4. Linger longer with each hug.
  5. Savor the light glinting on your child’s hair.
  6. Look your child in the eye when she speaks.
  7. Breathe
  8. Notice that an upset tone is a plea to be heard.
  9. Listen for the meaning under the words.
  10. Notice that everything your child says is code for “Please love me.”


Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can nd Dr. Laura online at, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.