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Listening to Understand

One of the most powerful tools we have is listening. However, this tool is often misused. Often we listen to our kids, we hear the words they say, but we respond by denying their feelings, defending ourselves/the situation, trying to fix their problem, or reprimanding them for a misbehavior. And that isn’t really listening at all. Listening means making an effort to hear and understand what the other person is saying. When we deny, defend, fix, or reprimand it doesn’t make the other person feel heard and understood. Our effort is put more into denying, defending, fixing, or reprimanding than it is into understanding. Rarely do we listen with the intent to truly understand and accept what our kids are feeling.

But when we begin to listen with the intent to understand and to make our children feel heard, something magical happens. When we listen and understand our kids’ feelings, the feeling and emotion dissipates. Instead of spending time trying to convince us of their feelings, they can spend their time accepting the reality of a situation, understanding their own emotions, and problem solving.

Below is an example conversation of listening to deny, defend, fix, and reprimand:

Parent: It’s time to clean up your toys and head to bed.

Child: But I don’t want to. I want to keep playing!

Parent: I said it’s time to clean up.

Child: No! I barely got to play with my favorite toy!

Parent: Oh stop it, you’ve been playing with your toys all night.

Child: No!

Parent: We can leave this toy on the counter so you can play with it more tomorrow. Now put the rest of the toys away and head to bed.

Child: No, I’m not done playing yet!

Parent: If you don’t put them away right now, I’m going to put them away for you and you won’t get to play with them at all tomorrow.

You can see in the previous example that the parent wasn’t listening to the child’s feelings, and because the parent wasn’t listening things escalated. When a child doesn’t feel listened to, that emotion persists and will often escalate the situation or will show up later in another form of misbehavior.

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Now here is an example conversation of listening with the intent to understand:

Parent: It’s time to clean up your toys and head to bed.

Child: But I don’t want to. I want to keep playing!

Parent: I bet you do. Playing is a lot of fun.

Child: Yeah, and I barely got to play with my favorite toy.

Parent: It’s hard to put away toys when you’re not done playing with them.

Child: Yeah.

Parent: Mmmhhh.

Child: I just wish I could play with it more.

Parent: That’s a fun toy.

Child: It is, it’s my favorite.

Parent: I’m looking forward to tomorrow when you can play with it more.

Child: Me too.

Parent: Yeah…(pause so that child feels heard). It’s time to put toys away now.

Child: Ok, but can I leave this one on the counter so that I can play with it first thing in the morning?

Parent: Absolutely!

In the above example, the parent took time to really listen to the child’s feelings. The parent made an effort to make the child feel heard and understood, and to accept the child’s feelings. And by doing so, the child’s emotions began to dissipate and the child was able to accept the fact that play time was over and even did some problem solving. And by the end of it, both parent and child were happy instead of upset and angry like in the previous example. And it took about the same amount of time.

The next time your child is having a rough time and sharing an emotion, make an effort to listen to understand and see the magic happen. And this works well with all relationships- spouse, friends, co-workers, etc.

*Tone and intent is very important when handling emotions. You can say the right words, but if your tone and intent is off, this won’t be as effective.

XO, Kacie

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