When someone does not feel heard, it can be extremely frustrating. When your child speaks to you, put down your phone, if possible switch off the TV, thereby reassuring him that what he has to say is important to you. However, remember, that mutual respect is very important. If you are texting while you are talking, the chances are that your child will soon be doing the same. So modelling the behaviour you expect is important and very effective.
There are two basic principles that one can apply to help the other person understand you better:
- Learn to listen.
- Learn to respond appropriately after you have listened.
- There are also two basic principles that one can apply in order to be better understood:
- Learn to be in touch with your own feelings.
- Learn to share your thoughts and feelings with the other person.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Children are often not encouraged to make eye contact when an adult addresses them – they are busy sending a text or watching some sort of screen. Socializing without social media is becoming obsolete.
Insisting on eye contact is a basic way of showing respect to and interest in the person speaking to you. Once that basic foundation is established, children need to be taught to respond appropriately and not just stare blankly or avoid making eye contact with others.
It is important to speak to your child in a tone of voice that makes him want to listen and which shows that you care.
Different viewpoints have equal validity.
Open and closed responses
To encourage conversation, use open responses that the other person can respect and give feedback on. When you use closed responses, this kills the conversation. Here are some typical examples:
Commander: This is the sergeant major! He screams out commands like, ‘What is wrong with you? If you ever do that again, I will never …’
Moralist: This is the frustrated preacher inside of some of us. He doesn’t let an opportunity go by without finding a way to ‘preach’ about what should have happened: ‘Now that is no way for a Christian to act!’
Lecturer: This style is wonderful when it comes to giving advice, lectures and arguments. He sounds a lot like the Moralist, but not quite as spiritual: ‘I would never lose my temper like that! What really helps in a situation like this is …’
Judge: He always gives judgement on what is right and what is wrong. In actual fact, the judge is always right, and the child always wrong! ‘You were wrong to react in that way, so go to your room until you can admit what you did!’
Bully: There are parents who use sarcasm, insults and teasing to chastise their children: ‘You are such an idiot! Who do you think you are, acting like that? Get that pimple face out of my face!’
Psychologist: Some parents like to analyse and diagnose their children’s behaviour. This gives them a sense of power over their child: ‘Puberty is a time of storm and urgency where you focus your efforts to form your identity and discover your uniqueness!’
Comforter: They use classically sweet, superficial clichés in an effort to at least say something, but without exposing themselves to anyone else’s pain: ‘Oh shame! I’m sure everything will be just fine. God will provide!’
Detective: This is the investigator who is not concerned about other people’s feelings or reactions when he is trying to get to the bottom of what happened. He sees himself as the one that cross-questions all concerned and scratches everything open. He typically wants to find out, what, who, where and when: ‘Who hit first, was it you or him?’ ‘Why is your suitcase in such a state?’
Orator: This parent tries to control the child through logical arguments: ‘The fact of the matter is …’ ‘There are four points I would like to mention …’ ‘I understand what you said, but …’
A closed question of this kind creates the following responses:
- It has more chance of breaking down the relationship.
- It doesn’t help the person to brainstorm his idea or problems with anyone. It humiliates the person with the problem.
- It raises the emotional temperature of the person instead of solving the problem.
- It is not typically the way one would talk to your friends.
- Active listening
By contrast, active listening has the following elements:
- It acknowledges that someone has the right to ‘feel’ what they are feeling.
- There is acceptance, even though we might disagree with their way of handling things.
- It concentrates on the verbal and non-verbal messages that are given by the sender.
- It decodes the messages that we receive and sends back to the other person a message to respect on and confirm that it is an accurate interpretation of what was heard.
There are few things that build a relationship as much as Active Listening. It is said to be the greatest act of love. When someone truly listens to you, you don’t feel alone and you feel that someone has come very close to you and cares for you.
We need to learn to really listen to our children and not just to hear them. Here are some examples that you could consider using:
- ‘It looks like your day hasn’t started too well.’
- ‘You look really upset! Would you like to talk about it?’
- ‘It looks like you really need someone to talk to today.’
You can leave what you’re doing and sit next to your child and wait till she begins to talk.
Am I hearing or listening?
Simply hearing what someone has said can be likened to hearing the birds or music in the background. Truly listening is an art that can and should be developed. This poem truly describes how most of us feel about how we would like to be heard:
When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
LISTEN! All I asked was that you listen.
Not talk or do – just hear me.
Advice is cheap: 25 cents will get you Dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper.
And that I can do for myself: I’m not helpless, maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness.
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convinceyou and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them.
Perhaps that’s why prayer works, because God is often silent and He doesn’t give advice or try to ‘fix’ things. He listens and often silently helps you work it out.
So please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn and I’ll listen to you.
– Author Unknown