Community Psychiatric Centers
Monroeville, Greensburg, Monessen, and Wilkinsburg Pittsburgh

October 24, 2013

How to listen so kids will too: The art of reflective listening

Can you relate to this?

You get into an argument with your spouse. You know your point is valid, but you’re having trouble getting your mate to acknowledge your viewpoint; instead, he just wants to “move on” and “forget about it.” So, he tries to change the subject but you’re left feeling unheard and misunderstood. Given the situation, you’re simply not ready to “move on” and you feel ‘stuck’ and frustrated. In your subsequent stewing over the problem, you think that, if only your point of view was acknowledged, even in disagreement, you’d feel more at-ease and prepared to resolve the matter.

Kids feel the same way

The same thing happens every time you want to “move on” past your child’s disappointment, frustration, anger, or problem. Okay, here’s the scenario: your child complains that he does not want to stop playing his new video game, you just purchased for him, to empty the trash. You abruptly respond, in irritated fashion, for him to follow your direction “NOW” and ignore his obvious distress. I understand that there are situations when there is no time for discussing the matter but you may find, just as with your prior argument with your spouse, that a simple ‘reflective’ comment, acknowledging your child’s feelings, will help him to more quickly move beyond his feelings, put them aside, and carry-out the assigned task.

An example please

A comment such as “I understand it’s frustrating to be taken away from your new game. After you finish the chore you can return to playing.” Feeling ‘heard’ is extraordinarily powerful; it bolsters a sense of comfort and then allows for moving beyond, and past, the problem at hand. Otherwise, we tend to feel ‘stuck’ in the argument.

Also to share success, and show empathy

Reflective listening is vital in all relationships, for topics that are both positive (“I’m so happy for your accomplishment, you worked so hard…”) and negative (“you feel sad that your friend didn’t show-up, that can be disappointing”). In regards to this latter situation, the child will sense his feelings were acknowledged, and be willing to move forward to problem-solving, e.g. “why don’t you call your friend Timothy and see if he wants to come over instead.” In the absence of reflective listening, there is a tendency for your child to become argumentative (“I’m not calling Timmy, I wanted Jim to be here…”).

Give it a try

You can more readily avoid such conflicts with your child, and any other person in your life, by listening for, and acknowledging, their feelings. Try it; you may find yourself feeling happier too.

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