Listening Skill #1: Acknowledging
“You can attract more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel of vinegar.” Anonymous
This old saying illustrates a profound truth: a little kindness goes a long way. Kindness is a lot more effective than bitterness. This idea applies to many aspects of life, but to none more so than relationships.
There is no better way to build or strengthen a relationship than by listening to another person, including a child. When anyone speaks, it is for the purpose of being heard, or listened to, including a child. Acknowledging is the first and simplest way of conveying to another person, including a child, that you are in fact listening. And conveying that simple fact is, by itself, strong encouragement for the child to keep talking. And this is what you want, if you accept the idea that listening is 90% of communication–or at least that listening is critically important to effective communication.
What Does “Acknowledging” Mean?
Acknowledging something a child just said is a powerful way to encourage them to give you more information, like the thoughts or feelings that motivate their behavior (especially if it is unacceptable behavior). If you want to get to know your child, to understand who she truly is, you will have to truly listen and do your best to encourage her to confide her thoughts and feelings in you.
Acknowledging is the first step in that direction. It conveys that you heard what she said. And you’re not jumping all over her for saying it. It will automatically encourage her to say more–which is what you want, if you are truly going to understand where she’s coming from, and empathize with her.
Here is a critically important observation about acknowledging that must be clearly understood: Acknowledging does NOT mean you agree with what she said. Rather, it indicates that 1) you heard what she said, 2) you accept it non-judgmentally as her own truth for her at the moment (without criticizing or rejecting it out of hand), and 3) you communicate those things back to her.
In this way acknowledging validates the child’s ideas or feelings as legitimate, even though these might be different from your own. They might even be disagreeable or disgusting to you. It means you are listening without judging or criticizing.
Thus, it encourages the child to say more, which is what you want, since you are listening to understand. This is a great way to lay the groundwork for offering support, help, or a suggestion.
How Do You Do It?
So how do you acknowledge what your child is saying? How do you communicate that the child has your undivided attention, and that it is safe for him to say what he’s got on his mind?
Here are some examples of the simple act of acknowledging: “Hmm.” “Okay.” “Well…..” “Oh.” “Uh-huh.” “I see.” “Wow!” “Really!” “Holy smokes!” “Gee whiz.”
Also, there are several non-verbal ways of acknowledging what the child is saying, such as eye contact, nodding, facial expression that shows interest and/or curiosity. Another effective method of acknowledging is to resist the temptation to jump in an make a comment. In other words, silence. Silence, when accompanied with attentiveness, or being present, communicates that you’re willing to hear more. Rather than interrupting with your own important messages, you are willing to restrain yourself.
An Important Hint
Acknowledge as much as you can of what your child said before offering an opinion of your own, or a different perspective. When combined with questions and/or reflecting, acknowledgment helps a child feel understood and that his ideas or feelings are accepted as his ideas or feelings. Remember: acknowledging does not mean that your are saying you agree with what is being said. If you are trying to practice my number one rule of thumb, listen first, talk second, when it’s your turn to talk you will be able to say what you think about what the child said.
You Can Also Acknowledge Behavior
Besides acknowledging what your child says, which really means acknowledging his thoughts as his own truth at the moment, there are other things, behaviors, that you can acknowledge as well. Some of these might be:
- His being honest, open, or willing to share his thoughts or feelings;
- His taking time to talk with you;
- His willingness help is sister, or to walk the dog;
- The fact that he cleaned his room, or took out the garbage, or did a chore;
- The fact that he came home on time, got off to school on time, or did his homework;
- Any positive effort your child puts out. Look for these positive efforts and acknowledge them often.
For example, you might say:
- “Thank you for (saying, doing, being) _____.”
- “I appreciate your (saying, doing, being) _____.”
- “I can understand how you might feel that way.”
- “I didn’t know that.”
- “Well, let’s see, let me think about that a bit.”
The more you do this while your child is talking, the more you will encourage him to talk. (Of course you may not always want that!) And when he is speaking about something important, or personal, like why he had a “red” day at school, or what made him hit his little sister right now, or why he lied to you yesterday, you do want him to say as much as he can about it. You don’t want to interrupt him or criticize him — it will shut communication down.
So, instead, acknowledge a lot of what he says as he is saying it.
Conclusion: Acknowledge What They DO As Well.
Take a moment to reflect and write down here a few things that you could acknowledge your child for. Or, identify a few things you did acknoweldge recently, perhaps without even realizing you were doing. To be sure, there are many things children do so many right, and very possibly you may have noticed, but may not have commented on them.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.