Think back to when you were growing up, and all the times when you felt self-doubt, confusion, and frustration. It's tough growing up! You can help your children get through the bumps and bruises of childhood by simply being there for them. Children need to know that when the whole world feels like it's crashing down around them, they have one safe, secure place to go, and one bottomless source of unconditional love. Listening is as much a skill as giving a speech is a skill. It's not just a matter of picking up sounds: active listening involves an array of behaviors that express your attention, empathy, and respect. Listening to your children in this way will go far toward convincing them of your unconditional love. Keep these guidelines in mind when your child has something important to say to you:
1. Put down your paper or dishtowel. Shut off the TV. Maintain as much eye contact as your child seems comfortable with. Make body contact, such as a hand to the shoulder, if that seems appropriate. Often, when children are trying to express a problem, thought or concern, their parents say they are listening, but half of their attention is somewhere else. You can't con a child this way. Typically, a few minutes of sincere, attentive listening is worth more than an hour of letting your child talk while you carry on with another activity.
2. Don't rush to jump in with solutions, ideas or lectures. Often, children just need a sounding board. They need another person listening to give them an opportunity to figure out exactly what they want to do. Solving your child's problem may give you the relief of ending his or her discomfort; but, in the long term, it's worth far more to them to get the support they need to formulate solutions on their own.
3. Demonstrate that you're listening by asking appropriate questions and making "listening" sounds such as: "Hmmm," "Oh," "Really?" "Darn!" "Wow!"
4. Validates your child's fears and feelings. When our children come to us with negative emotions, it's far too tempting to minimize them: "Oh, don't worry about it." "There's nothing to be afraid of." These comments do much more harm than good. It's important for children to learn to trust their own feelings and to listen to them. By brushing them off, you're giving your child the message that his or her feelings are wrong or unimportant. You can validate your child's feelings instead with such comments as, "That sounds embarrassing." "It can hurt to feel left out." "That must be frustrating."
5. Help your child to focus on possible solutions, rather than getting mired in the problem. If the situation isn't one that can be solved-if it's a condition rather than a problem-encourage your child to express his or her feelings fully, and then move on. Help your child use forward thinking phrases like, "I bet you wish . . ." or "Wouldn't it be nice if . . ." or "What do you think you'll do now?"