When to and When Not to Active Listen to Your Children

(Excerpted from the P.E.T. Participant Workbook)

Active Listening is a powerful tool for helping children express and work through problems and upsets. Active listening when misused, however, can actually add to a child’s problem and undermine the helping relationship. The following guidelines will insure that your use of Active listening is appropriate and helpful.

active listening children parentingActive listening requires certain conditions and attitudes to be present before it is an appropriate response to your child’s troubled communication.

When TO Active Listen:

• You get verbal or non-verbal cues that your child may have a problem or an unmet need.

• You genuinely want to help and the time and place are convenient.

• You feel accepting of your child; your child’s behavior does not cause you a problem.

• You feel separate enough from your child’s problem that his solution to the problem, whatever it is, will be acceptable to you.

• You are able to attend closely to your child. None of your concerns are so pressing that they will interfere with your concentration on your child’s communication.

When NOT to Active Listen:

There are clearly times when Active listening should not be used without risking the creation of more problems. These times include when:

• You get no cues and clues that the child is experiencing a problem. (Don’t create them!)

• You don’t want to help in this case. You don’t care, you’re rushed, you’re busy.

• Your child’s behavior is unacceptable to you. You are irritated or hurt by it.

• You are invested in having your child reach the “right” solution to her problem. (Your Active listening will then tend to be contaminated by hints in the “right” direction.)

• Your own problems are too upsetting and immediate to allow you to be intently focused on your child’s concerns.

• Your child simply needs information which you have and he doesn’t.

• Your child states the problem or feelings so clearly and specifically that an attempt to feedback would feel redundant and patronizing. (Silence or acknowledgment is better in such cases.)

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