Practicing Active Listening with Your Child Goes a Long Way
I’m a problem-solver. It’s something I pride myself on. Being able to look at a problem and assess possible solutions is a skill I’ve worked hard to develop throughout my life. So, imagine how frustrated I get when I offer someone a solution and they flat out refuse it or don’t want to even try it. I just can’t stand it when someone points at a problem and says “look, a problem!”
As a parent, my over-emphasis on problem-solving can be troublesome. I have a tendency to want to solve problems for my daughter. The issue is, if I do all the work and solve all the problems, she never learns to do things for herself. It’s sort of a catch-22.
So, what’s an eager problem-solver to do?
I recently read a great article meant for people like me on Parents. It’s about active listening and the power of not solving problems. Basically, it comes down to letting kids work things out for themselves, while still being supportive in the quest for a solution.
Have a “listening talk”
The first rule of active listening is to listen. Even if you have a solution, shut up and keep it to yourself. The idea here is to let your child express the scope of the problem for themselves, to contextualize it. most times, saying a problem out loud helps them come to grips with it.
When my daughter is brooding or clearly struggling with something, I get ready for a listening talk. I start by asking “what’s wrong,” then settle in to listen. Occasionally I chime in and ask her to tell me what she means or explain something further, but for the most part, my job is to let her unload. Vent. Get everything out.
It’s therapeutic and affirming for her. She gets everything off her chest and out in the open, and my silent, active listening validates her expression.
Suggest, don’t solve
This step is hard for me—again because I’m a problem solver. When she’s done venting, the second step in active listening is to ask constructive questions. Don’t tell her what I would do or what she should do—ask her what she thinks she should do.
These questions are meant to help her get to the bottom of her problem in a way that trains her brain. If I give her the answer or throw input at her, her brain just has to decide if what I’m saying is right or wrong. If I ask questions, her brain connects the dots to provide answers. More questions mean more answers, means a clearer roadmap from the problem to the solution.
Affirm or offer advice
When it comes to the conclusion, there are two paths the active listener can take. If the solution is a good one (constructive), you can affirm it. “I think that sounds like a great idea.” If the solution is questionable (destructive), you can offer advice. “Have you considered this instead?”
What you can’t do is invalidate your child. Invalidating them negates the entire act of active listening. If you steamroll their solution with your own, you discourage them from trying to devise one in the future.
For people like me—hop-to-it problem-solvers—active listening is a learned skill. For parents, it’s one worth learning early on. It’s a great way to spark problem-solving in your children, and it’s a skill you can adapt to plenty of other areas of your life—from your social circles to your workplace.