At the top of the list of attributes that we want our child to have are self-confidence and self-awareness. Through the development of these attributes children develop self-reliance, motivation and acceptance of others. So, what skills do we need as parents to develop these attributes in our children? The most important skill that we need to develop these attributes is called REFLECTIVE LISTENING.

What is REFLECTIVE LISTENING? Reflective listening is a way of providing a caring, nurturing environment for our children. If we want a child to be a caring human being who respects others, we need to respond to them in respectful, caring ways. Through reflective listening our children know we value their dignity. They “feel felt,” giving them a sense of well being that results in stress reduction.

Why is Reflective Listening important?

  • Show that feelings matter
  • Show that it is possible to talk about uncomfortable or complicated feelings
  • Show that we care about the child’s feelings
  • Teach the child that all feelings are acceptable, even though certain behavior is not
  • Defuse an uncomfortable situation
  • Reduce a child’s urge to act out because the child feels heard
  • Teach the child a vocabulary for articulating how they feel
  • Reduce whining, anger and frustration

How do I use the skill of Reflective Listening?

  • Listen quietly and attentively
  • Verbally acknowledge the child’s feelings with a word
  • Give the child his wishes in a fantasy
  • Set aside your own feelings temporarily
  • Refrain from interrupting, arguing reasoning or justifying
  • Give the feeling a name

Examples of the use of Reflective Listening

Identify the child’s feelings and the situation related to the feeling
“Are you upset because you did not get a higher grade on your math test?”

Acknowledge the child’s feelings
“You sound happy.”
“You sound tired.”

Acknowledging the child’s feelings tentatively
“Are you feeling hurt because you were not invited to Jonah’s birthday party?”
“I am wondering if you feel hurt because you were not invited to Jonah’s party.”

Use sounds such as “Mmm,” or “Oh” when the child is describing a situation to demonstrate your attention and non-judgmental response

Use a word to describe the feeling
“Perhaps you feel disappointed”

Link the feeling with the situation related to the feeling
“Perhaps you feel disappointed because your team lost.”

Give the child in fantasy what you can’t give him in reality
“Wouldn’t it be great if you could stay at the amusement park until it closes.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t need sleep.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could eat ice cream every day.”

Accept the child’s feelings even as you stop unacceptable behavior
“You are still angry about losing your book and you are kicking your desk. I can’t allow that. You can tell me about what is most upsetting about losing your book.”
“You are upset that Billy took your toy and you are hitting him. I can’t allow you to hurt Billy. You can tell me when you are upset when someone takes your toy and we can find a solution.”

REFLECTIVE LISTENING is a skill that is useful in establishing and maintaining all relationships: with family, colleagues, friends, as well as in professional or contractual relationships. It is most useful in our relationships with our children because of the long term effects on their self image and social adaptation.

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