Active listening

Just as every child is unique, every parent and every family is unique. Parenting methods multiply with the years going by, books on the subject compete with each other on library bookshelves. There are so many ways to raise a child, yet every parent, whether they are married, divorced, remarried, or an adoptive parent, can and should do this simple little thing that most of us forget: listen to their children.

The verb ?to listen? can convey an impression of passivity. In this article however, I am not talking about the kind of listening that you do half-heartedly when your child tells you about their day while you are driving them home from school, or the listening you do when you are preparing dinner, or reading the paper (!). I looked for a definition on the Webster on-line and found three. The first one is ?to pay attention to sound?. Isn?t that what we do a lot? We know our kid is talking to us, but we are busy doing something else. All we are doing is hearing the sound of his/her voice, and maybe catching the gist of what he/she is saying. The second definition is ?to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration?. The third definition says ?to be alert to catch an expected sound?. The key words here are ?thoughtful?, ?attention?, ?consideration? and ?alert?.

Do we really listen to our kids by staying alert and giving them thoughtful attention and consideration? Our kids are talking to us all day long. Because they are kids though, we need to listen extra carefully, with alertness. Why? They don?t have the words yet, to express all that they are, all that they feel, all that they want.

Truly listening means being alert, mirroring and validating. That is called active listening.

There are thousands of situations where we miss out on giving active listening to our children. We are too focused on problem solving and forget to sit with them in their feelings. Here are a few examples: ?Mommy, Tom stole my truck, I am never going to play with him again!?, ?I don?t want to go to bed, I am not tired?, ?I hate my stupid homework, what use does it have to know math anyways? I?m not going to do it!?, ?I hate you, you?re the worst parent in the world!?, etc, etc? Most of the time, the natural and spontaneous way to respond to those is to either tell them to shut up, stop whining and ?do what I say?, or ?don?t you dare talking to me like that!?.

Of course they have to learn how to share, of course they have to eat their veggies and go to bed at a decent time, of course they have to do their homework and they cannot talk to you disrespectfully. However, there is a simple way to avoid getting into a power struggle with them, and empower them before you set the limit. It will give your child a great sense of relief and of feeling understood, and it will allow you to have a little bit of perspective.

The trick is to put yourself in your child?s shoes. What is he trying to tell you? What must he be feeling right now? When you have an idea, tell them. Before you start lecturing or implementing some kind of disciplinary action, take 30 seconds to reflect back what you think they might be feeling: ? that math problem feels too hard for you and you are discouraged, aren?t you??, ?you?re having so much fun outside that you don?t want to go to bed? or ?waow, you are very angry at me right now?. You don?t have to agree with them, you are just empathizing, letting them know you heard them. And then? Well, then you try to problem solve with them, or leave them alone to calm down, or reinforce the rule. But at least you have let them know that you saw them, and you heard them. And you have helped them clarify some of those confusing feelings that don?t have words yet.

And while you?re at it, try that with your spouse or your boss the next time they take it out on you. I can guarantee that it will de-escalate the conflict. Providing you don?t do it with sarcasm.


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