It is important for parents to avoid the 12 Roadblocks when their child has a problem. Active Listening is a complete communication process involving:
• Parent attentively both listening to and observing the child’s verbal messages.
• Parent forming a careful, tentative impression of what the child is experiencing.
• Parent empathically feeding back (both verbally and non-verbally) this impression.
• The child then begins the next communication cycle, usually by confirming or clarifying the parent’s feedback.
Active Listening works because it helps the child discharge strong feelings and think through a problem to get some kind of resolution.
But what about the timing of Active Listening—under what conditions should we Active Listen?
Certain conditions must be present in both the sender and the listener for Active Listening to be effective. Active Listening is not always helpful or appropriate. It can cause resentment in the child when used under the wrong
Conditions in the Child:
• The child must be having feelings and/or experiencing a problem.
• The child is giving verbal and non-verbal cues and clues that s/he is having a problem, i.e. “I’m worried.” “I’m scared.” “Did you like school when you were a kid?” crying, sulking, etc.
• The child must be willing to talk to the listener.
There are many times when the child is in the No Problem Area or simply wants you to provide a straight forward solution or information, i.e. “What time is it?” “Do you know where my key is?” If feelings or problems are not present in the child, Active Listening may be perceived as a maddening word game or subtle implication that the child is
“sick” and the listener is well.
Conditions for the Parent:
• The parent must feel genuinely accepting.
• The parent must want to help (not just to use a technique).
• The parent must let the child be a separate person who owns his/ her problems in a life separate from the parent’s life so that the parent can empathize with the child’s pain, but not become disabled by it.
• The parent needs to trust that the child can solve his/her own problem. The parent’s job is to facilitate the child going through a problem solving process.
• The parent needs to have and want to take enough time. (Unexpectedly lengthy talks can be ended with an agreed upon appointment at a later time.)
But what if these conditions are not present in the parent (listener)?
• Attempts to change or influence the child with the parent’s preferred solution, evaluation, etc. buried in the feedbacks, i.e. “Sounds like you’d better do more homework!”
• Subtle, harming message of criticism, blame, immaturity, etc., i.e. “You sound like a baby right now.”
• Subtle, unhelpful messages of unacceptance, impatience, boredom, i.e. “So you still can’t decide what to do?,” yawning, looking at the clock, etc.
The child experiences such Active Listening as threatening, manipulative, frustrating, condescending or boring.
These consequences will strongly discourage the child from talking about problems with the parent in the future.