The Power of Active Listening: Tips for Communicating with Kids Pt. 2
In my recent post Tips for Communicating with Kids Pt. 1, we explored ways to intentionally connect with a child and give clear instructions. In this post, we will focus on how to demonstrate empathy, build a strong emotional connection, and soothe an upset child.
Actively Listening when Communicating with Kids
As adults, we are used to asking questions to demonstrate genuine interest. However, children may find multiple questions to be overwhelming and a bit like school. Instead, try implementing active listening when talking to your child. This can be done by summarizing things your child says or describing their actions and experiences. For example, if your child says, “I went in the pool at Jackson’s house,” try summarizing and describing the statement by saying something like, “you swam in their outdoor pool!” While this may seem counterintuitive, using active listening will actually encourage your child to contribute to the conversation. Of course, there will always be times when you need to ask your child questions to learn more about their experiences, but it can be helpful to sprinkle active listening statements throughout conversations with your child. This will help your child to understand that you are listening to their words instead of just “grilling” them with questions. This also provides the child with an opportunity to expand upon their experience and provide details instead of giving a one-word response like "good," "yeah," or "fine."
Similarly, you can use a type of active listening called emotional reflection to demonstrate that you are empathizing with your child’s emotional experience. As mentioned, adults often ask questions to learn about others and demonstrate interest. However, reflecting an emotional experience shows a deeper understanding of what someone is going through, as opposed to simply asking a follow-up question. For example, you notice your child is crying and through their sobs, you hear something about a peer taking their seat in the cafeteria. Instead of saying, “why did they do that?” try reflecting the emotional experience by saying, “it sounds like you felt really uncomfortable when someone took your seat. I know I would feel frustrated if I couldn’t find somewhere to sit.” This shows your child that you are accepting of their feelings and taking the time to really hear their concerns.
Validation vs. Agreement
You can validate your child’s experience and emotions even if you do not share the child’s perspective. For example, your child may become distressed and demonstrate irritability when asked to pause playtime to help take out the garbage. While you may feel this reaction is ridiculous since taking out the garbage only takes a few minutes, you can demonstrate empathy and understanding towards your child’s emotions. For example, you could say something like, “I know you’re feeling disappointed that you have to take a break from playing to take out the garbage. I really appreciate your help.” In moments like this, it is helpful to ignore any negative or snarky comments about having to complete a task and focus on praising the child when they have achieved the goal.
Similarly, when your child is expressing high emotionality (i.e., having a meltdown) this is not the time to focus on logical reasoning. While you may think it’s absurd that your child is crying over being given a blue popsicle instead of a red one, the child will not be receptive to your opinion. Instead, try validating your child’s emotions by saying something like, “I see you’re really sad that you didn’t get your favorite color popsicle.” This is a great time to give your child a hug or drink of water to help them calm down. A soft tone of voice will also help the child to emotionally de-escalate and match your tone instead of getting louder in order to be heard. Once the child has regulated their big emotions, you can introduce some logical or problem-solving statements such as, “t was your brother’s turn to pick his popsicle first. You will have your chance the next time we have popsicles.” Implementing validation and comfort in these highly emotional situations before introducing logic can prevent a full-blown conflict and will show your child that you are accepting of their big feelings.
If you've been working on increasing your active listening skills and are still experiencing difficulty communicating with your child getting started with therapy to work on effective communication may be a great next step.
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting teens and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to schedule a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!