These tips on how to really listen to your kids help parents understand how to validate and empathize without needing to lecture or provide advice.
React or respond.
This is one of the biggest challenges parenting can bring. The exhaustion, lack of patience, stress, and busyness of the day can wear on us. I find myself reacting much more often than responding.
I mitigate sibling squabbles as I defrost chicken, I type on my computer while my child explains his latest drawing or I spend one-on-one time discussing the day while I fold laundry.
Much of my interaction with my children is done while multi-tasking, and out of reaction, as if I am running on auto-pilot.
It is in the moments when my children experience negative emotions that I’m forced out of reacting, and am ‘asked‘ to respond instead.
Often, this means I have to really listen. Empathize, validate, understand…and skip the advice-giving.
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How to Really Listen to Your Kids
I’ve written before about the power of validating your child’s experience. This includes the acknowledgement of their feelings or emotions in the moment. Showing them that you understand how they are feeling, and are willing to ‘hear them out’, despite your own stance on the subject.
This is a really powerful tool that we hold as parents, educators, caregivers, etc.
But, in order to really listen to your kids, there has to be a level of acceptance in your understanding and validation, and that can’t be paired with a lecture or advice.
Skip the advice.
As parents, we want to fix. We want to eliminate a negative emotion from our child’s experience, and feel that providing them with a solution to their problem will do just that.
In the book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, this is discussed. When our child presents us with a ‘problem’, we provide a ‘solution’.
Then go to sleep.
These are very basic scenarios where we attempt to solve our child’s problems by offering a solution. This is what I am referring to as a reaction in parenting. A + B = C.
But, when we take the time to respond instead of react, we are making the choice to really understand and empathize with what our child is feeling.
Often, in the moments where we are able to respond, listen, and understand, we are giving our children a great power in providing them the opportunity to solve their own problems. To work through their feelings and understand on a deeper level that which they are experiencing.
Not only are we there for them, but we are empowering them.
So how can we really listen?
Ask yourself these questions:
- what is it that my child is feeling?
- can I label this emotion for them?
- do they have the vocabulary to express it themselves?
- how would I want my spouse/significant other/friend/boss to respond?
- what are they looking for in this exchange?
- how can I validate this experience?
And then respond.
The differences I have noticed between a reaction and a response in my own parenting are as follows:
The reaction happens out of response to external stimuli, often without thinking; the response occurs after a moment of pause and consideration with how I might respond next.
The latter provides me with the chance to really listen to what my child is saying and assess his needs. It reminds me to be present, to empathize and understand what they are feeling. And it saves me from jumping to a lecture or advice, often with the intent of providing a solution.
Take some time to think about the responses you provide your own child when they are experiencing a negative emotion, such as embarrassment, anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.
Do you offer them validation, understanding, and an empathetic ear? Or are you quick to lecture, place blame, and offer advice?
Try just listening. Really listening. And asking yourself the questions above.
Sometimes all you need to offer is a “that sounds really embarrassing”, or “that must have made you really mad” to get your child talking, or on the road to processing their emotions in a really safe and understanding space <3
If you want to check out the book that I mentioned above, How to Talk to Kids Will Listen, grab a copy on Amazon, or listen to it on Audible (this is what I do in the car!). You can try it free for one month >> details here.
*Photo credit: sad child with mom, mother hugging sad daughter, mother teaching daughter to tie shoes
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