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How to master reflective listening

In the article, Defusing angry children takes heart, Noël Janis-Norton’s practice of reflective listening as a method to defuse angry children was examined. This article will outline the five steps she shares that will help you become a master reflective listener.

Finger pointing tends to escalate the situation and is not conducive to solving anything.
Finger pointing tends to escalate the situation and is not conducive to solving anything.
Making and maintaining eye contact is a great strategy!
  1. Put your own emotions and wishes aside temporarily: Most often, when we deal with an upset child, we get upset. We find ourselves becoming angry when the child becomes defiant; we feel anxious or guilty because the child feels so bad. Unfortunately, our strong emotions often lead us to act impulsively rather than using the interaction to help the child.
  2. Calm yourself down before doing or saying anything: Visualize yourself gathering up your anger, worry, frustration or disappointment with both hands and place them outside the room. That process can help clear your mind. If you really want to deal with those feelings, you can retrieve them later.
  3. Stop whatever you are doing, look at your child, and really listen: Sometimes a child will try to open up to us but we find ourselves distracted. To prevent that, we need to look the child in the eye when she is talking to us. It helps if we make sounds which show we are listening (“Hmmm,” “Oh,” “Really,” “Good,” etc.). This helps the child to register that we are paying attention. Suppose the child does not open up to you and cannot/does not explain what is wrong? It is then you need to “hear” her body language, facial expression, posture or gestures. When a child becomes surly, uses a disrespectful tone of voice, or suddenly does not want to look you in the eye, and you have no idea what triggered any of those things, it is obvious something is going on with the child. These are definite signs to stop what we’re doing and reflectively listen to that child.
  4. Imagine what the child is feeling and reflect that back to him in words: Ask yourself what feeling(s) might be driving the child to act out. Take an educated guess about what may be going on beneath his words or actions. Then, instead of trying to reason with, reassure or give a lecture, reflect back to him what you believe he may be feeling. Some examples would be:
  1. If your child balks at putting her toys away, you could say, “I know you don’t want to stop because you’re having such a good time. However, it’s time for you to clean up and go to bed.
  2. If a child complains he can’t do his schoolwork, instead of saying, “You can do it, it’s not that hard,” try saying, “You may be thinking it looks too hard because you don’t want to get anything wrong.”
  3. If a child gets frustrated because she can’t do something she’s trying to do, instead of saying, “Don’t worry about it,” you could say, “You appear to be getting a bit frustrated. You’ve tried so many times and it is still not working. Can I help you in any way?”
  1. Provide your child her wishes in fantasy: This step is valuable. It shows kids we really are on their side. If a child is hunched over her homework looking mutinous, you could say, “Wouldn’t you just love to have a magic want that you could wave over your books and all your homework would be done?” Of course, the child knows no such wand exists, but your comment provides a light moment of humor into the situation and shows you understand how she might be feeling.

For more tips, read Calmer, Happier, Easier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton.

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