With the challenges you face each day as a busy parent, knowing how to really listen to kids is a real challenge.  For example, as Amanda came home from school she spent the first five minutes complaining to her mom about conflicts on the playground that day. In response, Amanda’s mom made statements like:

  • “There, there, it’s not all that bad.”
  • “I’m sure things are going to work out all right.”
  • “Don’t worry; these problems won’t seem so bad when you get older.”

As you can tell, mom’s intent was to help young Amanda feel better about the conflicts that he faced at school.  She was trying to reassure, sympathize, and console her. What’s wrong with mom’s intent? Absolutely nothing. However, those kinds of statements usually inhibit the flow of communication. Even more, they will minimize Amanda’s experience of the conflict. Knowing how to really listen to kids, knowing how to identify and understand the contents of their heart is challenging to say the least!

Taking this further, Amanda is complaining because she wants her mom to acknowledge what resides in her heart:

  • Frustration
  • Worry
  • Nervousness about his relationship with others.

She wants to know that someone, especially her mom, understands what she is going through at school. She wants connection and understanding. Most of all, Amanda wants to know that she is not alone as she figures out how to relate with her friends.

I want to emphasize that each of mom’s responses were not bad. In fact, each of them has its time, place, and appropriate use. Unfortunately, the timing of those statements actually missed Amanda’s heart, diverted her wants, and blocked the exploration of the meaning of her conflict. So, how could mom ensure that the conversation continued to flow? She could have said something like:

  • “Wow… you sound frustrated. Is there anything else you want me to know?”
  • “Sounds like you are nervous about remaining friends with that boy. Is that true?”
  • “Are worried about what others are thinking? Is that true, honey?”

A Point To Ponder

The next time your youngster complains about the conflict that she is facing, try to listen in a different way. First, try removing any obstacles that may divert her ability to express her frustrations and worries.  Next, tune into what she’s really trying to tell you about herself.  Tune into the deeper meaning of her experience, what she really wants you to know about her. For starters, try acknowledging the emotions that are underneath the surface of her complaint.  When you ask a child, “Is there anything else… are you nervous about making friends, are you worried” you are doing something really powerful.  You are helping her put language to her feeling states.

Doing so helps you listen so kids will open up and talk.  Doing so will change the nature of your day-to-day relationship!

Please Note:

I’m excited to announce that the doors are open for my newly updated parenting seminar:  “Raising Kids Without Raising Your Voice.”  Click here for all the exciting details!


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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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