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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.


#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.


* 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.


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