Karen’s Parenting Mini-Course Part 2 – Listen

I’m Karen. Welcome to my Parenting Mini-Course. This Simple Solution is to Listen and let your children know you understand them.

What should I do when my child misbehaves and it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket?
Shout? Plead? Despair? Surprisingly, after Stopping and Thinking, our best option is almost always to Listen. It’s a miracle-worker. Once children feel understood, the whole situation calms down.
So don’t criticise.
Don’t advise.
Just Listen and acknowledge we hear what they say.

Why does Listening help?
When we Listen, we provide a safe place for sometimes overwhelming feelings. When our children feel we understand them, they feel we love them and that we’re on their side, even if we don’t agree with them. So it improves our relationship. It helps their confidence to know we respect their views and think they’re important. It also helps them make sense of their thoughts and emotions, and better able to understand others.
Calmer, more confident and compassionate children?
Bring it on!
The bonus is – they’ll also be more cooperative.

All I need to do is Listen?
All we need to do is Listen and acknowledge we understand them. Simple! Here’s how to do it:

  • Look at them and pay attention when they talk
  • Stay quiet and don’t interrupt them
  • And acknowledge we’ve heard them

We might try repeating back what they say, in slightly different words so we don’t annoy them. Or looking at them and saying something like, “Okay,” or “I see.” That way they’ll know we understand.

What about when they refuse to do what I say?
When children refuse to cooperate – instead of getting tough, which can make them feel like they have to fight to be heard, Listen. I can guarantee they have their reasons and once we acknowledge them, they’ll often give up the argument altogether.

But it feels like I’m letting my children get away with it.
I know – Listening instead of reprimanding seems all wrong – like you’re an overindulgent doormat. But by not flying off the handle, we’re staying in control and letting their feelings dissipate, which makes sense seeing as we’re the adults. So when they refuse to take out the trash, instead of shouting:

“Get up off your backside this instant!”

Try acknowledging what they say:

“You’re right. Taking the trash out is a nasty job. I know it’s the last thing you want to do right now.”

We aren’t saying they don’t have to do it; we’re simply acknowledging that we understand their view.

What about when they act like spoiled brats?
What child isn’t forever enticed by sweets and shiny new toys? If we Listen and let them know we understand how desperately they want something, they’ll often surprise us and let it go. So we can get out of it without pandering to their every whim or risking an embarrassing public scene.

“I know you really want that new action figure. I wish we could get it.”

Even if they ask again, stay strong:

“I wish we could. Wouldn’t it be great if we could buy everything you want? We could get a whole room full of them!”

That’s usually the end of it.

Does it also work when they’re upset?
When our children are unhappy, we don’t want them to suffer. So we jump in and try to make them feel better as quickly as possible.

“It’s all right. You’ll make new friends.”
Or, “Don’t worry. It’s not so bad.”

But from their perspective, how on earth could we possibly know it’s not so bad when we haven’t even heard how badly they feel?

Listening and sympathising, not always trying to make them feel better or give advice, gives children the chance to think through their feelings and solve problems themselves, which is so important. It helps them feel empowered and in control.

What about when they say something hideous like they hate me?
You may feel your blood boil and have to hold yourself back from saying,

“Don’t you dare speak to me like that ever again”.

But when we get thrown off balance by their outbursts, it gives children too much power and makes them feel out of control. Instead, just Listen and let them spew. There’s plenty of time to set them straight when they aren’t so wound up. Once they feel we understand why they’re so angry, we can talk about it and help them consider their feelings thoughtfully.

Listening seems to work for almost anything!
It even works when siblings argue. Just Listen to both sides. No need to resolve the argument instantly; just acknowledge you hear everyone’s views and they’re likely to calm down.

Children who feel heard by their parents feel loved and understood. Though most children can’t express it, that’s often all they really want in the first place.

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