Posted by Sunitha, a facilitator with Parenting Matters. She shares about how the tool of “active listening” helped her.
I had always thought that I was a good listener and a very open and friendly mother with whom my children could talk about anything they wanted to. In our parenting group, we had a session on how to practice active listening, which is the foundation of good communication. I felt very good about myself as I believed I was following it. But it was only after the following incident that I realised how wrong I was.
We were going through a trying period at home as we had had a loss in the family. Being a joint family, we all had to make a lot of adjustments. Emotions were running high. My son was in his 10th standard, so he was under a lot of stress and used to get headaches often.
One day he had an argument with some family members and he was very upset and anxious. I wanted to correct him and tell him that he should not be speaking to others in the family like that. But I suddenly remembered my session and thought I should instead listen to him and understand what he was going through, before saying anything. So I asked him, “What happened? Why are you so troubled?”
When you really listen the flood gates open....
That question opened the flood gates. He started pouring out his frustrations with various members of the family. He expressed his feelings about the loss of the person whom he had adored, his struggles with his studies, his loss of faith in God, and so it went on and on. My initial reaction was to pull him up and tell him “You cannot talk about elders like that,” or to give him an explanation and justify their behaviour. But I stopped myself from interrupting. I just listened with empathy, trying to understand his feelings and worries. I gave my total attention to his need to express his feelings, rather than to my need to be a good parent by giving advice and teaching values. I had to quell my anxiety when he said that he would not pray anymore, and resist the urge to reassure him that all will be well.
Listening means keeping your advice to yourself...
After an hour of talking, in which I just reflected his feelings by saying, “I know, it’s hard, you must be feeling bad,” etc. he said, “Amma, I am feeling much better and lighter and do not feel so angry with everybody around me anymore”. A few days later he came and told me, “You know, after talking to you my headaches have stopped; I have not got even one after our chat.”
Listening is a gift you give your child....
I was truly moved to experience the power of active listening. If we as parents just listen and accept a child’s feelings, many of their worries and troubles just vanish. We need not always try to correct them or teach them values. They know what is right. They only need an outlet for their negative feelings and guilt to come out. After truly listening if needed sometime later we can put across our point of view and they will be receptive to our guidance. It took a lot of effort for me to cultivate these skills but as I continue to use them I find my son far more relaxed and free of headaches till today.
About Active Listening:
Active listening is a tool written about by Thomas Gordon in his book Parent Effectiveness Training. Dr. Thomas Gordon pioneered the first structured parenting program - Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Trainings in 1962. These programmes are running all over the world today. This concept was found to be so powerful that it was adopted in classrooms and organisations to promote better communication.
Active listening is the key strategy for parents to develop a strong relationship with the child that is based on good communication.
The important ingredients of active listening are:
- To suspend your own thoughts and judgements and listen with complete attention
- To be able to identify what the child’s is feeling and reflect back the feeling. E.g.: “So you felt bad, that must have been upsetting”. If you are able to reflect back the feeling the child feels encouraged to go on and share more with you about what he/she is going through.
- Reflecting also allows the child to confirm whether you have understood their message, and to give them a chance to correct you if you don’t.
- Active listening can only work when you genuinely want to hear what the child has to say and have a deep trust in the child’s capacity to work out solutions. Active listening will not always bring on the spot change but it may start a chain of events in which the conclusion may never be known to the parent because they may work out their own solution later on.
Benefits of active listening:
- When we listen to children and accept their feelings, they let go of their negative feelings and find the strength to work things out for themselves.
- Parents do not need to constantly advise or solve the problem. Listening and supporting helps the child much more.
- He also discovers his own abilities to face situations and thus builds up his self esteem.
- Listening with attention helps us go beyond the obvious and come to know at a deeper level what is troubling the child.
- By listening and not judging we open the doors for our children to feel free to come to us with any problem.
- When a child feels heard he is more willing to listen to parent’s thoughts and ideas and hence parents are in a better position to guide their children by being good listeners.
To know more:
- Book: Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
- Website: parenteffectivenesstraining.blogspot.com