Your child will have strong (strong!) feelings from time to time, and strong feelings will get in the way of problem solving if no one is there to listen and help name the feelings. Think about a time you were very upset. Did it help when (or would it have helped if) someone started asking you questions, lecturing, and getting fussy at you? That’s just not how any of us work. We need someone to listen to our strong feelings, so we can articulate the problem and then think through possible solutions.

When we let our children talk about a problem while we really listen and help them name their feelings, they have the freedom and open space to work through the strong feelings and then think about solutions on their own. Children feel good about themselves when they can solve their own problems and feel some control over whatever it was that was so difficult in that moment.

For example, let’s say your son comes home mad as a hornet about the teacher blaming him unfairly at school. First of all, it could be true. Teachers do have bad days and make mistakes, just as we all do. Regardless of the truth in the perception, your child is feeling frustrated, so let him know: “That sounds frustrating.” Connecting to that feeling will give him space to tell you what happened. Then you can chime in. Perhaps the situation calls for: “So you feel kind of confused and upset about why Mr. Martin got so worked up.” It’s possible that the situation was even embarrassing for your child, so wonder about it out loud: “Sounds like it could have been embarrassing?” Now you might hear your child start problem solving: “Can you call him?” That’s one possibility, but the problem is still your child’s to solve, though perhaps with your help. Therefore, you could respond with: “Why don’t you and I talk to your teacher together. You can explain your point of view, and you know how you feel about it better than I do.” Your child feels heard and supported, a good combination.

Listening attentively lets your child know you understand the problem and accept how he or she feels about it. You can do this even if you do not agree with your child’s feelings or the way he or she acted in the situation.

Listening is a valuable freebie in a parent’s toolbox, and when we listen to our children, they will more likely listen to us too.