Parents - stop talking and start listening!

From Nine To Noon, 11:30 am on 2 July 2020

To communicate well with their kids, parents need to learn the skill of reflective listening, education consultant and parenting coach Joseph Driessen says.

Reflective listening is when a person reflects back to the speaker what they are saying, he tells Kathryn Ryan.

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When a child is upset, it should be a case of "zip up your own mouth and control your own reaction to try and interact and just be a platform where you allow the person to speak," he says.

This is a much more skilful and patient way of listening, he says.

He gives the example of a 14-year-old girl who is embroiled in a dispute with a friend.

“When she comes in and slams the door and says 'I can’t stand so-and-so' our emotions are aroused, our anxiety rises in our psyche.”

In such a situation avoid starting to try to direct and help the child, he says.

“That’s very unhelpful and you can learn a new set of techniques to help you unpack the conversation in a much more skilful way.”

The first thing to do is stop talking.

“You’re going to stop talking, you are not going to give advice, you’re not going to interrupt you are just going to control yourself and allow the child to talk.”

A simple technique for being a better listener is to repeat back to the child what she has said, Driessen says.

“The child says something and instead of reacting you just repeat it to them. You interrogate in a sympathetic but calm way.”

By gradually letting the child unpack what they are saying, they will start to relax, he says.

“As you are doing this the child feels more and more relaxed because she anticipates your reactions but she’s not getting any. Just a very calm empathy.

“Often the most valuable information of the story comes out last, so you are just patiently fishing for it.”

In a conversation like this the parent should suspend any judgement but validate the child’s feelings, he says.

“Even though as an adult you might think this is not a good way of talking or thinking. That’s not the point at the moment, the point is to allow the child to explore themselves what they are saying.”

Hopefully from this approach the child will develop her own solutions to the problem she faces.

“You can see that solution X is the best solution, but you can’t impose that, it’s much better that they go on a little journey and discover that themselves, then they have buy in.”

It is helpful to ask the child what advice she would give herself, Driessen says.

“That’s a very powerful question, you enable them to look at themselves in a slightly more detached way. They discover their own wisdom.”

With trust established the parent can then offer their own input, he says.

At the end of the conversation often the parent does want some input and often the child really values it because you’ve listened well and they are very receptive.”