With Your Heart
By Elizabeth Pantley
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
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:
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
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
Demonstrate that you're listening by asking appropriate questions
and making "listening" sounds such as: "Hmmm,"
"Oh," "Really?" "Darn!" "Wow!"
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."
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?"
Pantley is the author of Kid Cooperation, How to Stop Yelling,
Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate. This article
is excerpted with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
For more information, visit: www.pantley.com/elizabeth