If you’re like most parents, raising your children to be respectful and responsible is one of your main goals. But what’s the best way to deal with frustrating, if typical, child-rearing issues that seem to make this goal difficult?
Perhaps you’ve tried many different parenting approaches with limited success. Some seemed to help a little, while you gave up on others a few days into it. You may feel frustrated and at a loss in your parenting journey.
And maybe you find yourself falling into old patterns that you know aren’t helpful for your kids. You may not have received the best examples from your own parents or grandparents as you were growing up.
If this sounds familiar, learning how to use reflective listening can be a powerful tool in your relationship with your kids.
What is Reflective Listening?
A common response when our children misbehave or talk back is to scold them and implement discipline. After all, you want them to learn that it’s not ok to yell at you or lie about doing homework. You may feel so tired of the disrespect that you end up losing your temper.
But the first step of reflective listening is to learn how to put aside our own hurt feelings or quick responses. This can be hard, but it gets easier with practice.
The goal of doing this is to make room in our own thoughts to notice our child’s behavior. Instead of delivering a lecture, take time to pay attention to what’s really going on with them.
Compassion and Action
The next step in reflective listening is to show empathy and kindness to your child. Again, if they’ve just lashed out at you, this can be difficult. But it’s an incredibly powerful response, no matter your child’s age.
The next time your child yells at you, seems unreasonably afraid, or does something you don’t like, take a different approach. Immediately show them kindness and patience. Verbalize what emotions you see happening in them and reflect this back.
For example, if your child becomes angry and doesn’t want to go to school one morning, respond gently. You might say, “You seem really upset today. I know it’s hard to have to leave home in the mornings.”
Leave room for them to respond. Whether or not they say anything back, you can ask them what you can do to help or what may have happened to change their feelings about school. Avoid asking why or making assumptions.
You may be surprised by the results of this process of reflective listening. Your child will be relieved to not have to react from a place of defense whenever they’re feeling upset. They will learn that they can trust you to listen and take them seriously.
As adults, it’s easy to forget that children are still developing emotionally and socially. Reflective listening allows us to model healthy reactions and emotional self-regulation. Rather, it’s helping them learn to pay attention to their own emotions.
As we do this, they’ll gain insight into themselves. They’ll be better prepared to manage stresses and disappointments in life, no matter how big or small.
Underneath it all, feeling heard and understood is what everyone wants. Reflective listening paves the way for greater connection. Deeper connection can naturally foster the desire to be helpful and control reactions with more maturity.