For many parents, raising a child who listens can be one of the most challenging — and important — lessons in life.
Not only is the ability to listen critical to a child’s early development — enabling them to learn and keep safe from harm — but it is also vital for building relationships and achieving professional success later in life.
Still, so often it can feel as though a child is unable — or unwilling — to listen, leading to arguments and tantrums, with parent and child miles apart in their positions.
However, it needn’t be like that, according to parenting expert and authorized “Language of Listening” coach, Camilla Miller. Describing the U.S.-founded, three-step framework as the “missing step in parenting,” Miller said it can help reframe any conflict and allow a child to reach their goals within a parent’s boundaries.
“You get what you want and they get what they want. It’s win-win,” Miller, founder of U.K.-based website and coaching business Keep your cool parenting, told CNBC Make It.
Here are the three steps for getting your child to listen, according to Miller.
1. Say what you see
The first step in the “Language of Listening” is simple: Say what you see. Rather than imposing your judgement on your child’s behavior, resist the urge to react and quite literally vocalize what you see.
For example, you may think your child is not sharing, and you wish that they were, but, in their eyes, they are busy playing. Say as much: “You’re busy playing with that toy.” Equally, you may think they are giving you attitude, when, in their mind, they are feeling frustrated. Acknowledge that: “You’re feeling frustrated about this situation.”
“Your child needs to feel heard before they can listen to you,” Miller said. “When your child feels unheard, they feel like you’re dismissing their wants and needs, they think you are telling them how they feel is wrong.”
That doesn’t mean that you need to give in to their demands. But it gives you an opportunity to step into their shoes and figure out the root cause of their behavior.
“So often as parents we go in with a demand or a request, and we haven’t acknowledged what our kids want first,” said Miller. “If you don’t care about what they want, they won’t care about what you want.”
2. Offer a can-do
Once you have understood and empathized with your child’s behavior, you will be in a better position to help them move forward and find a solution.
If they are displaying a behavior you don’t like, help them redirect that energy toward something you do like.
For instance, they may be jumping on the sofa and you would prefer they didn’t. Acknowledge their desire to jump around and blow off steam, but help them direct that energy to a different space like the floor or a trampoline. Alternatively, they may be demanding a new toy and their birthday has just passed. Help them think of some ways they can purchase it for themselves, such as by earning extra pocket money.
“It’s about looking at the need behind the behavior and helping them to meet that need in a way that is acceptable to you,” said Miller.
If, though, they are demonstrating a behavior you do like, acknowledge and enable it to help reinforce such behaviors in future.
3. Finish off with a strength
When you have deescalated the situation and reached a compromise, conclude the discussion by highlighting a strength your child has displayed.
Avoid structuring the feedback with yourself at the center, however, i.e. “I’m so happy you did that.” Rather, make them the focus, for example by saying: “You’re such a problem solver, you found a way to fix that.”
That way, they will recognize themselves as an active participant in the situation and one with strong decision-making capabilities, which are more likely to be repeated over time.
“By adopting the child’s inner voice, it helps them reinforce those behaviors and build their self-esteem,” Miller said.
Changing your own reaction
While the “Language of Listening” framework is structured principally for children, it’s one that can also be applied to other age groups and situations, including teenagers, colleagues and romantic relationships, according to Miller.
In the case of teenagers, for instance, saying what you see can help them better understand themselves when they may be behaving in unusual ways, while simultaneously opening up the channels of communication with you as a parent.
“Generally, the reason people act out or shout is because of their need for power,” said Miller, noting the need to respect that desire.
Meanwhile, truly listening to and being understanding of other people’s perspectives can help you be more considerate and compassionate as a person, too.
“It’s actually understanding your own behavior as well,” continued Miller. “The quickest way to change our reaction is to change how we see things.”
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