When our children come to us with a problem, we usually want to help them. So we console, interpret, advise, distract or praise. Other times, we feel we must teach our children, and so we interrogate, lecture, moralize or order. And probably more often than we’d like, we respond angrily—blaming, criticizing, ridiculing, shaming or withdrawing.
However, all of these responses are problematic—whether with our children, or with the adults in our lives. They often serve to stop the communication of real feelings and the development of individual solutions. Take the quiz below, adapted from the classic Parent Effectiveness Training, by Dr. Thomas Gordon, to assess your listening skills.
- I let my children feel their difficult feelings, knowing that comments such as “Everyone goes through this” deny the strength of their feelings.
- I try to listen for the need beneath the words and respond to that.
- I make it a point to check in to see if I’ve understood something in the way my child intended it. When I do, I try to keep my own feelings, opinions and guidance out of it.
- When my child tells me something, I try to respond with either noncommittal phrases (such as “I see” or “Is that so”) or with an invitation to say more (such as “Tell me more” or “Go ahead, I’m listening”).
- I notice that when I listen to my children’s problems, rather than make suggestions or give advice, my children often come up with their own excellent solutions.
- When I hear my child out fully, my child is often much more willing to listen to my thoughts and ideas.
- When I let my children express their feelings openly and completely, the feelings often seem to disappear quickly.
- I really want to hear what my child has to say; if I don’t have the time to listen right at that moment, I say so and make time for it later.
- I’ve learned to trust that my children can find perfectly good solutions to their problems on their own.
- I understand that my children are separate, unique individuals, and that their feelings and perceptions are not necessarily the same as mine.
- When I stay away from moralizing, interpreting, ordering and advising, I find that I learn a lot more about my children. Sometimes, I even learn from my children.
- I know that just listening doesn’t always bring about immediate change and that it’s sometimes OK to leave things on an inconclusive or incomplete note.
- I understand that listening to children express their feelings can help them accept a situation they know they cannot change.
Authentic communication with our children (and friends) has rewards more valuable than a pot of gold. Real listening may be the rainbow bridge we need to get there. If you scored fewer “true” answers than false, you could probably benefit from improving your listening skills. Don’t hesitate to call.