Skip to main content

Listening to Children

Listening to your spouse can be difficult. Listening to your children? Who'd have thought that was just as important? Yet, though children are not "miniature adults" they are in need of empathy and understanding like the rest of us.

Steps

#1. Lower your defensiveness. Sometimes when a child is frustrated or upset, we have the tendency to personalize it. However, most of the time, it has nothing to do with you but something that may have bothered them elsewhere. If you can't listen objectively to your child because you've had a hard day, that's o.k. Take some time and come back to the issue. Your little one will appreciate it.

#2. Use feeling words and keep it simple. Kids don't like to be lectured to. This is good news since adults are usually more worn out after the lecture than the child is. A simple and effective way to respond is, "You feel ______. That must be _____." Good feeling words are: upset, discouraged, embarrassed, happy, encouraged, and joyful.  Feeling words are not interpretations. That may come later, but at this point they need empathy.

#3. Pace and wait for resolution. When your child feels heard, they'll usually figure out how to resolve the issue. You'll be surprised at the child's effectiveness if they've been shown empathy. Most of the time, they'll realize what they did right or wrong themselves. See tip number 3 below for more information.

#4. Use your imagination and have fun! This applies to situations when your child can't get something they want. You don't have to give in or be irritated; but instead, pretend with them. For example, 9 year-old Lisa wants to go to Disney World, but you don't have the money. Rather than giving her a lecture, say something like, "Oh I wish I had a magic wand so we could meet Mickey Mouse right now! Who would you like to meet?" It sounds corny, but this lets your child know you're hearing them in their disappointment.

Tips:

* Step 1 becomes very difficult if you're not getting some kind of self-care. Therefore, make sure you're getting some gym time, coffee time, or reading time. You need distractions from life to listen well.

* In Step 2, take time to pretend the scenario. For example, if 10 year-old Bobby is sad that his friend won't speak to him at school, pretend your co-worker or someone close to you is giving you the cold shoulder. How would you feel? Defensive, upset, stuck? Very likely little Bobby is feeling something very similar. After you take some time to pretend, you can then offer him some genuine feeling words: "Man Bobby, you feel hurt your friend is giving you a hard time." Personalizing keeps you from sounding stilted.

* Don't get into a cycle. It goes like this: child is angry. Adult tells them to not be angry but behave. Child then gets more upset. Adult puts them in time out or ignores them. Afterwards, adult then gives a lecture on behavior. Child shuts down. This results in the adult judging their child as “rebellious” or “out of sorts." It happens all the time! However, if you've applied step 2 and told them what they're feeling, the child will not only feel better but will usually behave better. For example, let's pretend you've had a bad day because your boss was hard on you. You then come home and become a little harsh with your spouse. Your spouse doesn't get defensive but says, "Wow, You seem to be really discouraged right now because Ted (boss) disregarded your opinion. That must be rough." What would your reaction be? Most of the time, you'll apologize to your spouse and open up to him. Why? Because our behavior gets better when we feel heard. It's the same with children.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Identity Politics and Dealing with Racism in the Church

My personal history dealing with racism.
The church has experienced its share of significant racism within her walls. In contrast to other great experiences in the South regarding racial reconciliation, I still remember preaching at a church in Mississippi and getting into a serious altercation with one of the elders. Before my sermon, I spoke to a lovely black lady who happened to be cleaning in the church basement (something that was common in many white churches). I had a delightful conversation with her, but I could tell she was suspicious and a little guarded. I was inured enough in the racism in Mississippi, especially the town I was visiting, to know that a white man doesn’t often spark conversations with black females sporadically unless there’s an unstated agenda. I eased her by telling her a joke about how nervous I was preaching and how my wife and I are looking forward to moving to Boston—we were “Yankees at heart.” She looked at me with restrained excitement and said, “Oh…

Should you sleep with your kids? "Yeah, how can I say this gently...Hell no!"

When I first became a family therapist, I never thought I'd be writing on cosleeping with kids. Personally, I didn't really care nor did I think that it was a big deal. Afterall, if a parent was loving, kind, involved in their kid's education and emotional lives, What do I care? It was certainly much better than parents who were always on their phones and who'd then yell at their kids when the child needed emotional attachment. I refused as a therapist to get into minor battles and tried to focus on the "big things" in the case. 
I've changed. As Donald Trump would say, bigly.
What happened?
Well, the first thing is that I started talking to these kids. Many of the kids I spoke to really didn't want to spend the night in their parent's room. I'd hear time after time of kids during a typical UNO game how they wish they didn't "Have to sleep in momma's room." I was curious and started asking questions. Usually, the conversatio…