When working with kids in my therapy practice, these are common statements I hear from those who don’t feel heard:
- my parents think they know everything
- my parents don’t get it
- my parents don’t understand what it's like to be a kid
Create a safe space for kids to feel heard and figure things out and they'll open up when something is bothering them.
As parents, we tend to react and want to swoop in and fix the problem. This isn’t helpful, and in a lot of cases is counter-productive. Children sometimes just need to feel heard and validated.
Think about when you have an issue and just need to vent. There is nothing more annoying than when the person you vent to gives you a lecture about what you should have done differently. I personally shut down when that happens. I like to feel heard, it’s nice to have someone who really listens. Kids feel the same way.
Active listening is fully listening to what is being said and not just hearing the person. When you use active listening skills you are communicating a mutual respect and understanding.
As an added bonus, when you resist giving advice and solutions you are laying the ground work for your child to start making their own decisions. Instead of taking over, you are encouraging them to find solutions to their problems.
Effective Listening Skills
Pay attention: put down your phone, turn and face the person, make eye contact, and nod
Keep an open mind: LISTEN without judgement, reactions, comments, or criticism
Watch: pay attention to body language, watching for what their body is communicating
Summarize: show that you’ve been listening and are understanding, acknowledge even if you don’t agree, paraphrase what is being said
- What I hear you are saying is…
- Is this what you mean when…
Ask: open ended questions clarify what is being said
- What would you do if ... ?
- What do you think about ... ?
- Why do you think ... ?
- How do you feel about ... ?
Validate: reflect their feelings
- You seem ...... about ......
- This is ...... for you
React appropriately: provide words of encouragement, acknowledgement, or an honest answer (only if asked a question)
Things to avoid
- a lecture
- asking yes or no questions that shut down the conversation
- mentally preparing your rebuttal
If you start to see the door closing on communication with your kid, switch to active listening.
Modeling active listening for your children is not only helping them feel validated, it is providing them with skills to be successful in the future.
Opening the lines of communication can do nothing but improve your relationship with your child.
Want to see active listening in action? Watch the video below.
Let us know how it goes!
(For more tips on improving communication with your child, check out this blog post.)
Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW
I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.