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Listening so Children Feel Understood  

As I talked about last month, when it comes to getting children to listen to what you as a parent have to say to them, it is often best to start with helping children feel listened to and understood.  For the important stuff, helping them feel understood is usually more about having their feelings acknowledged than understanding the words.  The understanding is important, but for them to feel understood they also need to feel acknowledged.

Step one for this is kind of a no brainer, but it is easy to let go of the basics with kids at times.  Pay attention.  When you are talking to your children, especially listening to your children, they should get your full attention.  It may be difficult if your kids talk to you all the time, but you are better off putting them off until you are really willing to sit down and listen.  You will probably find if you do this on a regular basis, a benefit is your kids won’t nag you with stuff as much as they used to.  Often what drives repeated requests of the same thing is not feeling listened to in the first place.

Second, take your time before you offer any advice, suggestions or criticism.  Say little things like OK, or even grunt, to let them know you are with them, but wait until you have heard them out before you respond.  Interrupting them will make them feel less listened to and may in fact derail their train of thought and make it difficult for them to communicate as clearly as they can.

Finally, acknowledge and support any feelings they express as they are talking to you.  Challenging their feelings or telling them they shouldn’t feel that way will just lead to them feeling invalidated.  If you are uncomfortable with some of their feelings, like anger perhaps, it is useful to remember that feelings and behavior are separate.  They don’t have to act out their anger.

You might want to offer them labels for their feelings if they don’t seem able to do it themselves.  If they are describing a situation that has impacted them but don’t really seem to have the emotional words available to describe that impact, it can be very helpful for them to provide that emotional label.  It will also help them to feel like you really understand them. 

Next month we move on to how you can talk and say things most effectively to your children. 

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