Can we talk for a moment about listening? Or rather, actively listening?
As Americans, when we have conversations, we’re conditioned to do something that psychologists call “reloading” while the other person is talking. This means that instead of truly listening to our conversation partner, we’re preparing what we will say next. (Don’t worry. The other person is doing it to you too. You’re not a total narcissist.)
For parents, the reloading problem is even worse when we talk to our kids. Adults tend to think that we already know what’s important in this conversation. ESPECIALLY if we’re discussing a behavior problem.
The thing is, we don’t actually know everything. Consider the possibility that maybe your child isn’t having a fit at bedtime simply for the joy of causing you misery. Maybe he’s not actually refusing to eat broccoli because he wants attention. It could be that there is something your child knows that you don’t know.
In fact, considering that your child is the only person who actually has access to his own thoughts, he definitely knows something you don’t. He might have difficulty articulating it, but he knows more about the reasons for his difficult behavior than you do.
So if you truly want to know what’s going on inside his mind, you’ll have to stop reloading, and start listening. Here’s how to do it.
Start by asking your child a non-judgmental, open-ended question about a problem he’s having.
For example, “Hey. I’ve noticed that you seem to be having some trouble at bed time. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
If your kid answers you, that’s fantastic. Now it’s your turn to listen. Focus on what your child is saying, then reflect it back.
So if your kid says, “I just don’t think it’s fair that I have to go to bed at 8:00.”
Then you say, “I hear you saying that you don’t think your bedtime is fair.” Then you add a probing question to get more information. Something like, “Can you tell me more about that?”
Resist the urge to pass judgement here! There’s no need to give your justification for the 8:00 bedtime or lecture about how many hours of sleep a child should be getting. Just listen, reflect, and probe. Keep doing it until you completely understand your child’s thoughts or concerns.
After this, you can give your point of view. You’re still in charge. You still make the rules about bedtime or whatever the issue is. But your child will feel understood and you might just have a productive conversation.