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How to Use Active Listening for a Happier Child

Oct 30, 2007
Sometimes, communicating with our children can be a daunting task. We feel like they're not listening to us; they feel like we're not listening to them. Good listening and communications skills are essential to successful parenting. Your child needs to understand that his or her feelings, views, and opinions have worth, and we should all make sure we take the time to sit down and listen openly and discuss them honestly.

With active listening, you listen for the meaning in your child's words, and you check with your child to make sure that you have correctly heard and understood their meaning. The big goal is to improve mutual understanding.

It is important to watch your child's behavior and body language. Try to paraphrase what your child said to you. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to agree, but just state what you have said. Listen to your child's emotions, too. Try to describe the underlying emotion, like "you seem to feel angry" or "does this make you feel frustrated?"

If your child is too young to know a lot of words that describe emotion, you can try verbalizing it another way, like "does this make you want to stomp your feet (or throw something, or whatever they do when they feel that emotion)?" You can also make a chart of faces that show emotions. In a non-emotionally charged situation, go over the chart with your child and describe the emotions shown in each face. Then when you have a situation you need to work through, you can use the chart and have your child point at the face that represents the emotion they are feeling.

It's a natural tendency to react rather than to respond. We pass judgment based on our own feelings and experiences. However, responding means being receptive to our child's feelings and emotions and allowing them to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of repercussion from us.

When we react, we send our child the message that their feelings and opinions are invalid. By responding and asking questions about why the child feels that way, it opens a dialog that allows them to discuss their feelings further, and allows you a better understanding of where they're coming from.

Responding also gives you an opportunity to work out a solution or a plan of action with your child that perhaps they would not have come up with on their own. Your child will also appreciate the fact that maybe you do indeed understand how they feel.

It's crucial to give your child your full and undivided attention. Put down your newspaper, stop doing dishes, or turn off the television so you can hear the full situation and make eye contact with your child. Keep calm, be inquisitive, and afterwards offer potential solutions to the problem.

Don't discourage your child from feeling upset, angry, or frustrated. Our initial instinct may be to say or do something to steer our child away from it, but this can be a detrimental tactic. Again, listen to your child, ask questions to find out why they are feeling that way, and then offer potential solutions to alleviate the bad feeling.

Just as we do, our children have feelings and experience difficult situations. By actively listening and participating with our child as they talk about it, it demonstrates to them that we do care, we want to help and we have similar experiences of our own that they can draw from. Remember: respond--don't react.
About the Author
Andrea Arnold writes about parenting at Articles Unleashed.
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