Ali Trachtman Hill Sept. 17, 2015
Dr. Alison Trachtman Hill
Sept. 22, 2015

Hi again! Hope your New Year is off to an amazing start, and that you’ve had some time to reflect on building an empathy practice in 5776 to help you better connect with your kids.

As I’d mentioned at the end of my last post, today’s blog shares the secrets to having better conversations with your kids. Here’s the first tidbit: turns out, the key to having more meaningful and impactful conversations with your kids is not primarily about what you say to them, it’s about how you listen.

Let me explain. On your journey to becoming an empathy parent warrior this year, you’ll begin incorporating body language, facial expression, and verbal and non-verbal feedback into your parenting repertoire. All of these will become part of your new way of listening to your kids, which feeds into your empathy practice.

Why do you need these? Well, let’s face it. We all have dozens of conversations with our little ones each week, yet a lot of the time, we have other things on our minds when they’re talking to us, or vice versa. Or, we’re so focused on thinking our own thoughts about what they’re saying, we’re not really listening to them, even if we hear them. And of course, their constant interruptions and many, many “whys” can leave us frustrated and exhausted, which lead us to a place where we just don’t fully pay attention to what they’re saying.

So, what are the keys to “active listening’? Here are 5 action steps you can take to signal to your kids that you’re genuinely listening to what they have to say.

Step 1. Pay Attention

  • Look your child in the eye, even if (s)he isn’t looking directly at you. Obviously, this one doesn’t work for chats in the car. If possible, save *major* conversations for when you can be eye to eye.

  • Keep your phone or any other (major) distractions out of reach. I know this one is super tough. To help myself with this, I keep my phone in my bag or in my bedroom from just before dinner time to right after bed time.

  • Refrain from talking to anyone else while your child is talking. Ok, this one gets complicated when they’ve interrupted your conversation to get your attention, however, it still works as a general rule.

Step 2. Show that you are listening

  • Nod your head yes from time to time. A visual cue is really helpful for all of us, not just kids!

  • Smile and use other facial expressions. This is especially important when it comes to building empathy.

  • Make sure your own posture is open, for example, don’t cross your arms in front of you. If your body language shows you’re closed off, even if you keep your voice tone even and welcoming, they’ll get the message that you don’t really want to engage.

  • Encourage your child with quiet verbal comments like “yes”, and “uh huh.” We all need positive reinforcement every now and again, right?

Step 3. Provide feedback

  • Reflect what your child is saying with phrases like, “What I’m hearing is” and “Sounds like you’re saying.” This is a great way for you to use your voice to show them you’re really listening, which they’ll appreciate.

  • Ask questions to clarify like, “What do you mean when you say” or, “Is this what you mean?” This one’s wonderful, as it helps you avoid getting too far into a story without actually having a clue as to what they are talking about!

  • Summarize your child’s comments periodically, as this’ll help you process what’s being said, as well as demonstrate you’re listening. This one might seem awkward at first, but if you use this little recap tool every now and again, it can be really awesome.

Step 4. Refrain from Interrupting

  • Allow your child to finish describing the situation before engaging in conversation. This isn’t (just) about being polite, it’s about letting them finish so you can actually be helpful when you respond.

  • If you feel like you might be taking something personally that your child has said, say something and ask for more information. For example, you could say, “I’m not sure I understood what you said, and what I thought I heard is making me feel badly. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?” We know kids say the darndest things…..asking them questions like these helps clarify what sometimes sounds like they’re being really hurtful.

Step 5. Be respectful and understanding

  • Be open and honest in your response, yet refrain from getting defensive or putting your child down. This is a great time to use an “I” message. Rather than saying, “You’re such a picky eater, I’m not cooking for you anymore,” you could say, “I worked really hard on making dinner, and it makes me angry and sad when you won’t even try one bite. What can we do so we both feel better?”

  • Treat your child as (s)he would want to be treated (platinum rule). If you aren’t sure what that looks like in a particular situation, just ask!

Using these active listening techniques with your kids has two huge benefits. First, it helps you to be mindful and deliberate about how you show them that you’re really listening to them, as well as hearing what they have to say. Second, it models behavior that you’d like for them to emulate, and really, the only way they’re gonna learn to engage this way is if they see you doing it.

As I said last week, empathy is a family-dynamic game-changer. Using these active listening techniques will help you become more empathetic, and support your commitment to strengthening and deepening your relationships with your kids.

Shana Tova v’ G’mar Chatimah Tova – May 5776 be a happy, healthy, peaceful year for us all.

Ali Trachtman Hill Sept. 17, 2015
Dr. Alison Trachtman Hill

Dr. Alison Trachtman Hill is the founder of Critical Issues for Youth, a sociologist, and mom of two. Her new e-learning platform for parents launches in a few weeks, and she’d love for you to come get a sneak-peek at Alison and her family recently moved to Denver, CO from Westchester, NY.