Really listening is active. When you, the parent, really listen to what your child is trying to tell you, it’s important to let him or her know that you are willing to listen and want to understand. It is important to try to sum up what you think your child is saying and how he or she is feeling. You may need to look underneath the words you hear and behaviors you see when you really listen. Then you can name what you hear and see. You might say, “It sounds like you are feeling _______ about _________ .” If you have summarized incorrectly, your child will tell you.
Listening for and reframing feelings is important because “feeling words” are words of great consequence for children to learn and understand. Young children in particular may have strong feelings that create discomfort, but they don’t have the words to talk about them. When you actively listen and help them label a feeling, it will be easier the next time for them to trust that you will listen and to use words rather than behaviors to describe what is going on inside of them. For example, if your child is angry, you might say, “I wonder if you feel angry about _______.” Then your child can realize, “That’s what this uncomfortable feeling is called.” The more your child can talk to you about what is going on, the more likely he or she will develop healthy ways to independently handle problems that crop up.
Here are some keys to effective listening:
Look at your child while he or she is speaking.
Be attentive and quiet so your child feels free to speak.
Let your child know you are listening through body language such as nodding or by simply saying “Uh-huh” or “Tell me a little bit more about that.”
Check to see if you have understood correctly by reframing and summarizing what you think your child is trying to tell you.
Look underneath words and behaviors to get a clearer picture of what your child is feeling.
Help your child have a name for his or her feelings. For example, there are many types of anger. Is your child frustrated, enraged, annoyed, or irritated?
Encourage your child to develop ways to resolve an issue. You may need to lead the process initially, but let your child offer solutions while you brainstorm with him or her.
If you will actively listen, your child will likely keep talking to you . . . and that’s a good thing!