When was the last time you felt heard? I mean really heard. When someone was attentive and listened to you without judging or interrupting. How did it feel for you?
Active listening is a skill we humans need to learn to develop. As a parent or caregiver, how do you think your kids feel when you are present in a way that validates the emotions that they feel? Children go through so many emotions during their day. They experience ups and downs and are learning how to manage those emotions. Parents and caregivers can help kids stay regulated through the art of active listening. So, what is active listening?
Active listening is really listening to your child without judgement or the need to “fix” the experience. Active listening allows you to be attentive and attuned to your child’s emotions. Active listening is a skill that can be used to really connect with your child in a way that builds trust and safety. Your child will be less reluctant to come to you when they are in distress. So how does active listening work?
- Be present: Put down the cell phone. Stop for a moment to really focus and to be attentive to your child.
- Do not use judgement or evaluation. Listen for the emotions and accept them. This is not the time to object, try to solve the problem, or ask a ton of question. Allow your child to talk without interrupts. Validate their feelings. Acceptance and validation do not mean agreement, just that you are allowing your child to feel the emotion.
- Here is an example: Your child comes to you looking upset. He says that “Nobody wants to play with me.” You can either say, “Go find something else to do” which cause an argument with your child complaining that there is nothing to do or you could identify the emotion and accept the feeling by saying “Sounds like you’re feeling a little lonely right now.” Your child can then focus on the feeling and clarify his thoughts working toward a solution.
Active listening, therefore, involves:
- Listening without judging.
- Becoming attuned to what your child is saying and feeling.
- Observing your child’s situation without becoming a part of it.
- Tolerating your child’s feelings, no matter what they are.
Active listening can be challenging for you because:
- You often have your own expectations as to how a problem should be solved.
- There can be a certain level of discomfort if your child is having an unpleasant experience.
- The negative and panful feelings may be too much for you.
- You may struggle with separating your feelings from your child’s.
- You have difficulty expressing your own feelings so it may be hard to hear your child express his or hers.
Active listening involves a shift in mindset and includes:
- The feelings and experiences of your child are real and you should accept them.
- Be objective with no judgement. Separate your feelings from your child’s.
- Your child is responsible for his or her own feelings.
- Make time to give your child your undivided attention. Put down the cell phone and attend to your child.
- Feelings come and go. Allowing your child to express his or her feelings decreases the intensity of the emotions and allows your child to focus on problem solving.
- Do not push your child to talk more if he or she is finished and wants to stop.
- Be patient with your child and allow him or her to draw conclusions on their own.
- Avoid expecting a specific result. Have patience with the process. Allow your child to feel heard, vent or express emotions in a safe environment so that you will be more connected with your child.
Active listening takes practice. Try practicing every day and you will be able to feel more comfortable sharing in your child’s emotional expereinces and connecting.
Next time I will share more tools for active listening.