One of the most powerful tools you have to make your kids feel heard and build your relationship with them is sympathetic listening, sometimes known as active listening.
In this video, Dr. Phelan talks about:
- How to do sympathetic listening well
- When to use sympathetic listening
- Why it makes such a difference
When to Listen and When to Count
There are times when what might sound like disrepectful behavior is actually an opportunity for you as a parent to practice sympathetic listening with your kids.
Imagine your 8-year-old comes home from school one day and says, "My music teacher is such an idiot!" Normally your child really likes school and likes music class. What they've actually said is disrespectful, but that's not actually the biggest issue here. You can probably hear the frustration in their voice--it sounds like something has happened to make them upset, so rather than counting them for disrespectful language, you're going to practice sympathetic listening.
How to Listen Well
It can be tough to practice sympathetic listening because it requires you to give your child close to your full attention and you have to refrain from giving your own opinion. Sympathetic listening is all about getting your child's point of view and hearing how they're feeling. Once they've had a chance to say what's on their mind and they feel heard, then you can perhaps move into problem-solving mode with them.
So how do you listen well? First, remember that this isn't the time to give your opinion, and it's not the time to correct their language. So if your 8-year-old says, "My music teacher is such an idiot!" you're not going to talk to them about not calling people idiots, and you're not going to try to remind them that they usually like their music teacher.
Instead, you're going to use an "opener," which is a nonjudgemental phrase or question that invites your child to keep talking. Some good openers in this situation might be, "It sounds like you're really frustrated, what happened?" or simply, "Oh, really?"
Once your child starts telling you their story, continue to listen without judging or providing advice (yet). Instead, you'll want to occasionally summarize what you've heard them say, and reflect their feelings back to them. "It sounds like you felt embarrassed and singled out when your teacher called on you to sing in front of the class."
Why Sympathetic Listening is So Important
Using sympathetic listening, or active listening, isn't always easy but it's an excellent way to make your child feel heard and let them know that you'll listen to whatever it is they want to tell you without yelling at them or judging.
This is important for a few reasons. It will make your child feel great to know that they are important enough that you'll give your full attention to hear them out, which helps to build a stronger relationship. In turn, that stronger relationship will help them feel more comfortable coming to you about bigger stuff as they get older.
Practicing sympathetic listening now will go a long way toward making sure your child tells you the important things that are on their mind as they get older.