Kids can sometimes surprise you with the comments
they make. Before jumping in with advice or
discipline, sometimes it’s more important to listen
first. For starters, get yourself in the proper frame of
mind: “I’m going to hear this kid out—even if it kills
me—and find out exactly what he thinks and feels
about what’s going on.” Next, several different things
can be done. These include openers, nonjudgmental
questions, reflecting feelings and perception checks.
OPENERS: Start with what are called “openers”—brief
comments or questions designed to elicit further
information from your child. These comments may
appear too passive, but remember that active
listening must precede any problem‐solving
discussion. If discipline or other action is necessary,
worry about that after you’ve gotten the facts.
Openers can be simple: “Oh?” or “Wow!” for example. Anything is OK as long as it
communicates that you are ready and willing to listen sympathetically. Nonverbal
behavior, such as sitting down next to the youngster or putting down the paper to
look at him, is also very helpful.
NONJUDGMENTAL QUESTIONS: Following openers, more questions are often
necessary. To be effective, these must not be loaded or judgmental. “What do you
think made you do that?” or “Sounds like this is really bothering you” might be nice.
NOT “What on earth were you thinking!” or “What’s your problem today?” Of
course your tone of voice is critical here.
REFLECTING FEELINGS: If you’re going to tell someone that you think you
understand him, try to let him know that you can imagine how he must have felt
under the circumstances. Something like: “Boy, I haven’t seen you this mad in a
while!” or “That must have been very hard for you.”
Reflecting feelings lets the child know that whatever he is feeling is OK (it’s what he
sometimes does about it that can be right or wrong). Reflecting feelings reinforces
self‐esteem and also helps diffuse negative feelings so they are not acted out
PERCEPTION CHECKS: From time to time, it is helpful to check out whether you are
really getting a good idea of what your child is saying. This kind of comment not only
lets you know whether you’re understanding him correctly, it also has a second
purpose: it tells the child that you are really listening and trying to see the world for a
moment through his eyes.
Active listening is an attitude. Your attitude, not your child’s. It’s the attitude of
sincerely trying to figure out what someone else is thinking even if you don’t agree.
It’s also a great self‐esteem builder, and you’ll find if you listen well you can learn a lot
about what your children think about life!