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Listening to Young Kids

How to Show You Are Listening to Your Young Kids

ListentoYoungKids-ShirinSherkatIn our last article we talked about the importance of effectively listening to your kids. Today we will discuss how to let your young kids know you are listening and how to validate their feelings.

When your kids are speaking to you, respond in a way that allows children to understand that you heard them. I’m not necessarily talking about understanding or agreeing with the child; I’m talking about a statement that sends an important message that you’re a parent who cares and you’re listening! That is the most important first step.

Validate Through Your Response

Let’s learn through the example of Johnny’s Story:

Four-year  old Johnny runs to his mom and says, “I don’t know what happened…was trying to hold it but it flowed up!” Clearly frustrated, he starts screaming, “It wasn’t my fault! I didn’t do it. It just falled, okay?”

His mom can assure him she is listening by saying, “You feel upset; something happened and you’re not sure what! Maybe I can help, sweetie. It’s okay, show me…” She may hold out her hand to be led to the “scene of the crime”.

By the way, here’s what doesn’t work, and doesn’t let little Johnny feel heard: “Stop yelling! Calm down! I can’t understand what you’re saying! What did you do? Did you break something?”

Let’s analyze the first response and figure out why it is so powerful and effective. How does this response show Johnny that his mother hears him? How does Mom end up successfully problem-solving with the kid? Well, it’s easy, let’s break it down:

Part 1: 

Mom says, “You feel upset.” This is the most powerful sentence in the entire response. Why? Because, first, it validates the boy’s feeling. Immediately, the kid feels acknowledged. Secondly, it helps a young child learn the label for what he is feeling and experiencing. Many children who know about labeling feelings or have seen feelings in other kids, adults, or in books and pictures, still don’t know how to identify those feelings when they experience them themselves.

It is so important to take a second and use this teachable moment to help your kid hear the label for what he is feeling. One of the wonderful side effects of this labeling also includes calming the kid. It is difficult to understand a four-year old child, let alone one who is freaking out!

Part 2:

“…something happened and you’re not sure what…” This simple statement by Mom is based on a  logical conclusion. Using the child’s own words, you could even add (grammatically incorrect and everything): “It flowed up and just falled!” Now the kid knows you have actually heard him. Note, there are no questions, no hints of judgement, and no reasons for the child to go into defense mode.

All the ingredients a child needs to calm down are now present. Now he knows he has an ear, a chance to explain, and most importantly, he feels he has a chance to get help. At this point, nothing is clear to the parent yet as to what actually happened. So, in order to get to the scene of the crime, and the root of the problem, you need the child’s cooperation, and more input. To get more information, you need to join him. Which leads us to the next part…(by the way, so far, the parent has invested about twenty seconds of her time).

Part 3:

ReassureKids-ShirinSherkat“Maybe I can help, sweetie. It’s okay, show me…” (and the mom may hold out her hand). This response created reassurance by offering help, support and security, and the possibility of a solution. This is the fastest and surest way to gain trust and cooperation and to grab a valuable opportunity to teach your child effective problem-solving and coping skills.

As a result, you get to the root of the problem quicker. Your child feels heard. He doesn’t feel judged. The lines of communication stay open. Wow, you could accomplish so much in so little time, by just taking a few seconds and responding with these few simple sentences. Practice it next time your kid comes to you with a crisis. Enjoy the results.

Effective Listening Goal:

Remember your goal: To help your child feel heard. So, to recap, your initial response to your child’s call has three parts (which I analyzed above):

  1. Validate the kid’s feeling.
  2. Use a simple statement that rephrases what the kid just told you.
  3. Offer support, security, and hope. This helps you join with your child.

Today we talked about listening to young kids, in our next article we’ll discuss listening to older kids.

This is an excerpt from my book: “Create Happy Kids”

Dr. Sherkat is a parent strategist who is available to do Parent Education Workshops, either Private or PTA Sponsored Classes.

Contact her at 425-772-6698.