By Stella Antakusama
When our children were learning how to walk, we encouraged them to stand up when they fell by offering our smiles and a heart of acceptance. Emotional self-regulation, like walking, is a skill that takes time to learn.
For some of us, it is a lifetime endeavor. Yet we forget how hard it is and become so unsupportive when dark clouds loom over our children. If they can communicate their problems precisely and directly, we might be spared from meltdowns and temper tantrums.
Active listening is a valuable communication skill that can help us to tune in to our children’s needs and emotions. When they are fraught with a mix of feelings, or when they shutdown and refuse to communicate, active listening helps to peel back the confusion and get to the core of what is bothering them.
Over time, they will also gain more awareness of their own emotions and learn self-regulation. Tuning in to our children will also strengthen and deepen the parent-child relationship. Children who feel respectfully listened to will much more freely seek our advice and guidance, we can then build more influence as parents over time.
Author Daniel J. Siegel explains the science behind active listening in his book The Whole-Brain Child. Siegel believes when our children are experiencing high emotional temperatures, their logical left-brain and emotional right-brain are disengaged. Children who get caught up in the moment let the emotional brain take over and their logical brain shut down making them unreasonable.
Active listening is a way of communicating that promotes overall mental health in our children by exercising both sides of the brain, allowing integration to happen between the left and the right.
Active Listening = Feedback of Fact + Feeling
The message that is sent by your child is decoded into the information that he is trying to communicate (fact), as well as the non-verbal cues (feeling).
Siegel emphasizes the importance of appealing to the emotional brain, “when a child is upset, logic often won’t work until we have responded to the right brain’s emotional needs.”
Feeding back the two-part statement to your child will indicate that you have understood the situation and that you are empathetic towards his predicament.
- A boy is holding his broken toy airplane and is on the verge of tears.
Active listening response: “You’re sad (feelings) because your favorite toy airplane is broken (fact).”
- Your daughter comes home from school and declares that she is done with school.
Active listening response: “You are furious (feeling) because something happened at school that makes you not want go anymore (fact).”
The active listening process should be repeated and continued until your child has experienced an emotional release. When your child’s emotional brain is unlocked, they will be more receptive to hear what you have to say.
Fine-Tuning Active Listening
- Your non-verbal language should reflect empathy; give full attention to your child, maintain eye contact and use appropriate voice inflection.
- Leave your presumptions out and focus on being a confidante - a safe place where your child is allowed to express all emotions without judgment.
- Take a step back and assess the overall situation, summarize the facts and feelings from time to time.
- Avoid roadblocks that will disrupt the train of thought - advising, offering solutions, probing, moralizing, reassuring - until your child has experienced an emotional release.
// Stella Antakusuma is a certified Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) Instructor. PET is a globally recognized, skill-based training program that helps parents to communicate more effectively with their children. PET courses will be offered in Shanghai in September 2014. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.virgoparenting.tumblr.com.