Tag Archives: listening

3 Listening Skills

3 Listening Skills

There are many goals for listening to a child, including: 1) to understand the child’s motivating thoughts and feelings; 2) to convey your empathy (understanding); 3) To create trust by creating a safe space; 4) to invite the child to say more; 5) to teach the child how to listen by modeling it; 6) to initiate and encourage dialogue.

These techniques, practiced as often as your child speaks, will become skills after a while. They are the most important relationship skills you can use with your child–or anyone. Listening cannot be done when you are talking, so it goes without saying that in order to listen while your child speaks, you must keep your mouth shut and pay full attention. The three listening skills (techniques) are as follows.

1. Acknowledging.

Acknowledging validates the child’s ideas or feelings as legitimate, even though these might be different from your own. It means you are listening without judging or criticizing. Thus, it encourages them to say more, which is what you want, since you are listening to understand. This is a great way to lay groundwork for offering support, help, or a suggestion. Acknowledging does NOT mean you agree with what they said, but rather you heard what they said, and you accept it as their own truth for them at the moment.

Examples: “Oh.” “Uh-huh.” “I see.” “Wow!” “Really!” “Holy smokes!” “Hmm.” “Okay.” Also non-verbal acknowledging: eye contact, nodding, and silence.

2. Questions.

This listening technique is completely natural. We ask questions all the time. The real challenge to asking our child questions as a means of inviting her to talk more is that, in-between the questions, we listen intently to what the child is saying, and think of another question to ask her that addresses what her response to the first question was, instead of coming out with our own response or asking a pre-planned question that has nothing to do with what she said. The only purpose here is to better understand where our child is coming from, and we are trying to encourage her to say more.

The “5-Question Technique”: ASK FIVE QUESTIONS IN A ROW–without expressing a single idea of your own. No objections, no explanations, no criticisms. If you don’t understand what was said, ask “What do you mean?” All this will help you know what to say when you finally do offer the child your ideas. If you can’t do five questions, do three. If you can’t do three, do two. Practice building up to five.For more detail on how to ask questions, please see my book 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony.

3. Reflecting (This is called “Active Listening” by Thomas Gordon in Parent Effectiveness Training and in Discipline That Works).

Reflecting is the most unusual technique and therefore perhaps the most difficult of the listening skills. At first, it seems like a very UN-natural way to respond to somebody, but the effect it often has is to encourage the child to say more about what they just said. These are always statements, not questions.

Reflecting statements always mirror, or reflect, back to the child what they said or seem to be communicating non-verbally. Reflecting statements are not opinions of your own. They are you, mirroring what you think the child is communicating, verbally or non-verbally. They do not mean you agree with what the child said! They only mirror back what you think the child communicated.

Examples of Reflecting

Level 1: Parroting. You say what the child said, using the same words. He says, “I hate you!” You parrot back, “You hate me.” Your intention is to encourage the child to say more so you can learn what is making him angry.
Level 2: Paraphrasing. You summarize what the child said, in your own words after a long winded statement. “Oh, so you hate me because I don’t let you do what you want, and I treat your sister better than you.”
Level 3: Interpreting. You interpret the child’s emotions or the meaning of their words. “So I take it you are really angry at me.” “Gee, you look sad, honey.” “It sounds like you mean you want to run away.”

Remember, you are condoning or agreeing with the child’s ideas here. You are simply mirroring back what he said. This has the effect of inviting him to say more.


Ideas presented in  this article are expanded in greater detail in my book 3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony: A New-School Approach to Relationship Skills for Parents. The book is available for purchase in downloadable pdf format or in printed soft-cover. You can check it out with the following links:

     Learn more.         Buy Now.        Table of Contents & Intro

Just Thoughts, Just Feelings

Just Thoughts, Just Feelings

Never take someone’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior personally.

Who hasn’t at one time or another had a thought like “I’ve been wronged.” Or “I’ve been mistreated”? Or “I’ve been hurt”? Or “I don’t deserve this”? Or “I’d like to punch him out”?

And who hasn’t at one time or another had the feeling of anger, pain, jealousy, envy, or fear?

Feelings seem to be always intimately connected with thoughts. Many feelings and their accompanying thoughts are quite pleasant. Many feelings and thoughts are quite unpleasant. But can it be said that any feelings, or any thoughts, are bad?

Children often say things we don’t want to hear, such as “I hate you!” or “I wish you were dead!” or “I wish I had a different mama!” These are verbalizations of thoughts, probably accompanied by feelings of anger, frustration, or even hatred. But can we rightly say these thoughts and feelings are bad? From a certain moral perspective I suppose it is natural to say, “Yes, these (and other) thoughts and feelings are indeed bad.”

But from a relationship perspective, it is not the thoughts or feelings themselves that are “bad,” but rather the expression of them in word or deed that can cause harm to others and damage to relationships. In other words “acting out” or “speaking out” ugly or nasty thoughts and feelings is where bad happens. Bad things can happen when Continue reading

Listening Skill #3: Reflecting

Listening Skill #3: Reflecting

What I mean by saying that “reflecting” is a listening skill is. The parent acts like a mirror verbally stating the emotion that she (the parent) thinks the child is experiencing, or the meaning she thinks the child is expressing. Example: “So, you are feeling angry.” Or, “I think you are saying you don’t want to go, is that right?” Or, “Gee, that must have been embarrassing.”. More examples are given below.

This technique is eferred to as “Active Listening” by Thomas Gordon, who really emphasizes it in his writings and training classes. I prefer the term “reflecting” because my two other listening skills (acknowledging and asking questions) require the parent to actively communicate with the child.
This “reflecting” technique or skill is the most unusual and therefore perhaps the most difficult of the three listening skills. At first, it seems like a very unnatural way to respond to somebody, but the effect it often has is to encourage the child to say more about what they just said. This is what you want–that the child gets the idea that you are “tuned in” and want to hear more of his ideas on the topic being discussed.
Reflecting statements always mirror back to the child what they said or seem to be communicating non-verbally. They are always statements. They are not to be delivered as questions. If you choose, you might follow the statement with a question to verify accuracy of what you said.
Reflecting statements are not opinions of your own. They are you, simply mirroring what the other is communicating, verbally or non-verbally. They do not mean you agree with what the child said! They only mirror back what the child communicated.
Reflecting has three levels. Continue reading

How to Not Take It Personally: Just Analyze It

How to Not Take It Personally: Just Analyze It

Don’t take anything your child says or does personally.

This might sound impossible. But your child’s negative, immature, insulting, critical, and/or vulgar speech and unacceptable or hurtful behavior do not determine or affect who you are–as a parent or as a person.
Those things say a lot more about your child than about you. They say s/he is angry, doesn’t know a better way of talking, or is perhaps purposely trying to hurt your feelings or make you mad.

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Listening Skill #2: The 5-Question Technique

Listening Skill  #2: The 5-Question Technique

On the one hand, this listening technique is completely natural. When we want to know more, what do we do? We ask. On the other hand, what makes this technique different is that in-between the questions, we listen to each of the child’s responses that we’re getting and

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Parental Anger: Modeling Anger Control for a Child

Parental Anger:
Modeling Anger Control for a Child

Children need to learn how to control their anger – how to use their words instead of their hands or feet. They learn this best by watching their parents, who are always modeling for them. Without even understanding the dynamics of anger (see Anger = Expectation + Interpretation, version1 and version 2), you can teach your child self-control and constructive expression of angry feelings by practicing the following techniques when you start feeling angry. The more you can catch yourself and do these things before you start yelling, the quicker your child will learn to take a time out voluntarily and use her words instead of her hands or feet.

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Nine Key Parenting Skills: An Overview

Nine Key Parenting Skills:
An Overview

Note: These ideas apply to adult-adult relationships as well as to parent-child relationships.

Harmony in a relationship or a home means that love, caring, and cooperation are felt and practiced between the family members. There are nine core relationship skills that parents need to develop and use with their children if they wish to avoid stressed relationships and promote harmony. I will briefly lay them out here with the understanding that each of them requires considerably more thought and sufficient effort for them to come alive in interaction between people.

Using the analogy of building a house, I divide the nine core skills into three different sets: listening, illustrating, and disciplining. Each set constitutes one step toward parent-child harmony, and represents a different section of the house.

Three Listening Skills

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Listening Skill #1: Acknowledging

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?

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