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Home » Positive Ways to Talk and Listen »

Spend Time Listening


Boy: It's not fair! Mom: What do you think would be fair?

Before You Say What You Think, Ask a Question

"If your child says, 'That's not fair,' instead of jumping in with an explanation you might ask, 'What do you think would be fair?' Then, wait for the answer - and ask a follow-up question. HINT: If you find yourself thinking of your response while your child is talking, then you're not really listening."

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-author, Raising Cain, Senior Project Advisor

Take a break and listen to your child. Specific actions — like making eye contact, kneeling down to your child's level and even tilting your head-show your child you are listening. They also help YOU stop and really listen. If you can't talk at that moment, you might say, "Let's talk in a few minutes; I'm in the middle of something."

Repeat what you heard. It's often useful to restate what you heard and put your child's feelings into words. You might say, "You wanted a turn on the swing right now, didn't you?" or, "You seem sad about going to day care today." These reflective statements acknowledge and give words to your child's feelings. However, do this carefully. If a child is in the middle of a tantrum, saying "You're really mad and out of control!" may aggravate the situation rather than help it.

Ask specific questions to gather more information. You might say, "Can you tell me exactly what happened?" If it makes sense to talk some more, you might ask, "What upset you the most?" Follow-up questions both acknowledge your child's feelings and get her talking about them. And they help you gather more information, so you can better understand what actually happened and how your child is thinking about it.

NEXT: Consider Opinions

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