The joy of good listening

Good listening has several spillover effects. Aside from helping children let out their feelings, it helps them become feelings friendly. It’s okay to be mad at someone, and it’s okay to cry when you feel sad. You learn to accept your children’s feelings; even if they hurt you or you don’t like them. Anytime emotions are shared between two people, their relationship is strengthened. Listening then, helps you get closer to your children. They care more about you and you care more about them.

Another benefit you’ll find, and be happy about, is that your children will listen better to you. You won’t always get the feeling that you’re talking to a brick wall. In addition, your children will learn how to solve their own problems. By thinking aloud children are forced to put their problems into concrete terms, which helps them find solutions. Each time your children solve a problem, your faith in them deepens.

Finally, by letting your kids solve their own problems, you’re taking a monkey off your own back. Many parents feel obliged to have all the answers and be right all the time for their kids, even going as far as blaming themselves when things go sour. This is a no-win situation. Not only does it give you grey hair, it discourages your children from becoming responsible and developing their own identities.

Not all listening sessions are as neat and tidy as the one between Brian and his mom.. If you’re a novice at reflective listening you may find it rocky at first. Your children may look at you as if to say, “This is dumb; I’m outta here.” Remember this is a new experience for your children as well, and they may not know what to do with it. They may feel embarrassed or think you are prying into feelings they’d rather keep private. Also, you have to prove to your kids that you’ve turned over a new leaf; whatever they say won’t be met with criticism, put-downs, or threats. Remember, you can’t force your kids to open up. They have a right to remain silent, and you will have to be gracious and wait for a second chance.

On the other hand your child may pour his guts out to you, but never solve his problem. Quite often kids don’t find answers right away. They need time to mull it over. You may however find that two days later, Johnny, out of the blue, comes up to you with a perfect solution. Don’t worry about making a wrong interpretation of your children’s feelings–you will, but it’s not the end of the world. Children are usually quite forgiving and willing to let you try again.

Another problem almost every beginner goes through in reflective listening is feeling self-conscious and artificial. It feels mechanical and unnatural to be just repeating what your child is saying. This is because you’re concentrating more on what your child is saying rather than feeling. With experience you’ll tap more into your child’s feelings and find your listening responses come much easier.

Keep in mind also that you may not be in the mood to listen–your macaroni casserole just exploded in your oven, or your mother has just dumped another family problem in your lap. You need to set your priorities and deal with the most important matter first. If your child is second on the totem pole let him know you heard his problem, and ask if you could talk to him about it after you clean up your casserole. Remember you cannot respond empathically and accurately to your child’s feelings if you’re engrossed in your own. After all the power of reflective listening does not come from the technique, but the caring and accepting attitude you project to your child.

Another rule of thumb is don’t try to reflective listen everything. Your kid’s problems can be never-ending. Choose the times when your children’s emotions are running high, or they’re acting out-of-character. By the same token, if you find yourself discussing the same problem over and over again, your children might be talking for attention, with no intention of changing. Your reply could go like this: “Haven’t we talked about this before? It seems like I can’t help you with your problem; it’s time for you to try solving it on your own. I bet you can do it!”