How to Listen so Kids will Talk - get your child to talk to you more
I often hear parents commenting that they ask their child how their day was at school and ‘okay’ is the only answer they get. That’s it, end of conversation. They would like to know more about what happened or how they really feel about their friends. With a few simple and highly effective strategies you can! Our children want to tell us about their lives and feelings and they do tell us, but usually we just aren’t listening or talking to them in a way that encourages them to talk more.
Here are some new thoughts and ideas when it comes to children and feelings.
I’m sure your child has said something like this – “I’m tired.” and you say, “You can’t be tired, you just woke up” “But I’m tired” “You’re not tired. You’re just sleepy. Hurry up” “No, I’m tired!”
Can you see what is happening? You are not acknowledging how they feel, they ARE telling you and but you are putting an end to their sharing by adding in your own thoughts and judgments. You tend to go nowhere and you then end up arguing with them.
Heard any of these lately, “I don’t like the new baby”, “I hate Grandma” or “I didn’t like my birthday party”. What do you say? Usually something like – “that’s not nice, I know you love the baby”, “Grandma loves you, you should only say nice things about people” or “What! You had all your friends, what about when we played games, ate cake….” This is very typical of how most parents respond. This is also denying your children’s feelings and what they are telling you.
What to do instead? Put yourself in their shoes, think of yourself when you are upset - do you want someone giving you advice or asking lots of questions – this probably only makes you defensive. Imagine if your friend said “you shouldn’t be so upset, you probably just tired” – you’d be fuming!
But if someone really listens to you, acknowledges you and your feelings, gives you a chance to talk more about what is upsetting you - you begin to feel less upset, less confused and more able to cope with how you feel and the problem.
This is the same for our children. They can help themselves if they have someone that listens and responds empathically. Empathy is not usually natural for many of us. Most of us grew up having our feelings denied. The good news is that all it takes is practice. Luckily there is no end of occasions to practice with our children.
Just by changing how you listen to your child and the type of questions you ask or comments you make, determines if they talk and share back with you.
Here’s what to do….
1. Try to listen with your full attention. Stop cooking dinner and really listen. Give your full attention. It is easier for your child to tell you their problems if you are really listening. Most times you don’t even have to say anything. Just be available and silent and this is all your child needs.
2. Hold off on giving advice. I know how tempting it is to try to solve your child’s problem with an immediate solution:
“I’m tired” “Well, lie down and have a rest”
“I’m hungry” “Then eat something”
Resist this temptation to “make better” instantly. Instead of giving advice or asking question just simply acknowledge their feelings with a word – “Oh you’re hungry” or “Mmm….” “I see…” Words like these are simply an open invitation for your child to tell you what they are thinking and feeling and usually, surprisingly for us, they come up with their own solutions.
3. Instead of denying their feelings, give their feelings a name –“I hate Grandma” “Your feeling annoyed with Grandma. When you urge your child to push a bad feeling away – however kindly – you will find that they get more upset. Parents fear that by giving a feeling a name, they’ll make it worse. Just the opposite is true. If you name what feeling your child is experiencing they find it comforting and the feeling fades away.
4. Give them their wishes in fantasy. When our children want something they can’t have, we usually respond with a huge logical explanation of why they can’t have it. Often the harder we explain, the harder they protest. Try this instead; give your child their wishes in fantasy. “I want to go on a holiday” Ask them where they would like to go and add too it, make it grand, exaggerate. Sometimes just having someone understand how much you want something makes reality easier to bear.
The most important part is your own attitude when doing these strategies, if it is forced or you’re really not interested right now it doesn’t take much for your child to know that it is pretend. So get the right attitude, compassion and then all you need now is practice.
Try listening to yourself and see how you are reacting now and what you do say, then use these extremely effective strategies. Sit back and listen as they will open up and tell you more about what is happening in their lives. This also opens an enhanced and happier relationship between you and your children.