As parents, we spend a lot of time talking, lecturing, advising, ordering and questioning our children but in order to improve behavior and build a relationship with them we must learn how to really listen. Active listening is probably the skill that separates the parents who are just getting by or struggling with their children with those who are fostering genuine connections that make parenting truly fulfilling for children and adults.
What is Active Listening?
In this type of interaction, the parent attempts to listen for meaning to what the child is saying and appropriately paraphrases back to the child what he feels he has heard in order to accurately reflect understanding of what the child is feeling.
Examples of Active Listening
It is strongly recommended that parents read the entire Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) in order to get the detailed description of this necessary skill and other invaluable parenting information. Here are a couple of Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Active Listening examples.
Child(crying): “Dylan took my truck away from me.”
Parent: “You sure feel bad about that- you don’t like it when he does that.”
Child: “That’s right.”
Child: “Boy do I have a stupid teacher this year. I can’t stand her.”
Parent: “Sounds like you are really disappointed with your teacher.”
Benefits of Active Listening
According to Thomas Gordon of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), active listening not only opens the door for children to talk with their parents but it keeps the door open. Gordon reported “startling results” when he first wrote about it in 1970 such as:
1. It helps children to find out exactly what they are feeling. Sometimes after they express their feelings, they magically dissipate.
2. It helps children become less afraid of negative feelings. When parents accept their children’s negative feelings, children learn to do the same.
3. It promotes a relationship of warmth between parent and child. The experience of being heard creates a loving bond between those that engage in it.
4. It facilitates problem-solving by the child. When people can “talk-it-out” it often helps them work through possible solutions.
5. It encourages children to be more willing to listen to the parent’s thoughts and ideas. Parents often complain that children don’t listen to them but what really is happening is that children are not being listened to themselves.
Attitudes Required to Use Active Listening
Active listening, according to Thomas Gordon, is not a “simple technique and without these attitudes, the method seldom will be effective; it will sound false, empty, mechanical, insincere.” Like anything else important, it will take practice over time and needs to be learned. These attitudes must be present to make it work.
1. You must want to hear what the child has to say. If you don’t have time, tell the child.
2. You must genuinely want to be helpful to him or her at that time. If you don’t want to, wait until you do.
3. You must genuinely be able to accept her feelings whatever they may be or however different they may be from your own feelings or from the feelings you think a child “should” feel.
4. You must have a deep feeling of trust in the child’s capacity to handle his feelings, to work through them, and to find solutions to his problems.
5. You must appreciate that feelings are transitory and not permanent. Feelings change and they will not become forever fixed inside the child.
6. You must be able to see your child as someone separate from you with his own life and identity. You must be “with” him as he experiences his problems, but not joined to him.
So much time in parenting books, blogs, videos, etc. is spent on what strategies parents should use and they involve what we “do to children” rather than “working with” children. Active listening truly focuses on putting ourselves in children’s shoes and experiencing how they really feel. They then don’t need to fight with us to be understood. After all, we were given two ears so perhaps we should listen twice as much as we talk.
For more information on ways to improve relationships with your children, parent coaching, workshops and classes, contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Elevated Parenting at www.facebook.com/ElevatedParenting.