Active Listening - Empowering our Kids
During my parent coach training, I was challenged to use active listening with my kids and spouse. My initial thought was, I already do this….. I know to how to listen intently and ask clarifying questions. But like most things, once it was brought to my attention I realized most of the time I was barely listening at all!
Frequently, I was half listening to what my kids were saying because I was distracted with some other task. I would give a non committal “uh huh” or “yeah?” every time they paused, and realized after a few seconds that I had no idea what they were talking about.
So step ONE I focused on either stopping what I was doing, making eye contact, and listening intently, or I would tell the speaker that I was right in the middle of something and would be able to listen as soon as I was done. It also made me conscious of how many times I just started talking at my kids when they were in the middle of something, without first making sure they were ready to give me their attention.
Once I made sure I was listening intently I realized my next habit. As I was listening I would immediately go into problem solving mode, offering suggestions or giving a solution. So step TWO became listening intently without interrupting. When they paused, I would repeat back what I heard, or ask a question, or possibly name a potential feeling to see if I was understanding correctly.
Over the next few days I realized how much I had been solving for my kids, when they were fully capable of solving their problems on their own. Or there wasn't even a problem to be solved, they just wanted to be heard.
This also helped diffuse a meltdown. My husband and I thought we knew what the problem was- our son was overtired, and wanted to play instead of getting dressed and ready for bed. We tried suggesting fun ways to get ready for bed- he said these were boring! We tried reminding him that it was bedtime, and we could play more tomorrow. We tried telling him it was time for pjs so we’d sit there in his room until he was ready.
But all of this infuriated him more, and I could sense we were close to the point of no return, where he wouldn't be able to "hear" us at all. When I finally remembered active listening I asked him to tell me what was going on?
5yo - Getting PJs on is boring
Me- You think getting your PJs on is boring
5 yo- Yeah. I want to do something fun
Me- You want to do something fun instead
Me- What would make it more fun?
5yo- I want to cuddle dad in my bed.
Me- You want to cuddle dad in your bed. That sounds really nice, how do you want to get on your PJs before you get into bed?
5yo- I want to do it upside down!!
Me- You want to get your PJs on upside down. That’s really silly! Let’s try!
By actually listening and asking questions instead of peppering him with ideas and solutions, he came to his own solution that worked for everyone. And we even managed to have some fun doing it!