Every moment your child communicates messages, verbal and non-verbal. The way you react and respond to these messages has a powerful impact on how your child feels, in general, and how he feels about and perceives himself, in particular. Listening – “shema” – is one way to nourish your child, and to enable your child to feel better about himself.
Genuinely listening to and validating your child’s feelings are the fundamental skills and building blocks of the “Conscious Parenting” approach. The value and importance of effective listening, in my opinion, should not be underestimated. This skill entails that you- the parent- recognize, accept, acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings and experiences.
Effective listening is discussed and described in numerous parenting books and programs and in most books about communication. In the “How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids will Talk” series of books for parents by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, the authors describe this skill in a way that is clear and user-friendly.
In advocating this skill of listening to and validating your child’s feelings, I assume that-as discussed in the first part of this series-all of us, and especially our children, have a deep need to feel heard and understood.
I also assume that there’s a connection between how kids feel and how they act. This is to say, there is a connection between a child’s emotional state and his or her behavior. As the well-known child psychologist and parent expert Dr. Haim Ginott stated, “When kids feel right, they’ll behave right.”
Each and every moment, we all experience a continuous flow of different feelings. Feelings are dynamic; they change and shift. My preferred way to help children feel right about themselves is by accepting and validating their present feelings. I notice that, over time, feeling validated is associated with more appropriate behavior.
In the realm of education [Chinuch], psychologists have discovered that there is an optimal arousal level for learning. This is a state of being both alert and relaxed. It is much more likely that your child will be in this optimal state when he is feeling right – that is when he is feeling okay about himself and when he feels heard.
As parents and teachers, you can optimize a child’s ability to understand, process and absorb information by creating a climate conducive to learning. An effective first step to create this climate is to listen to your child. When a child feels heard, listened to, acknowledged and validated, he often feels calmer and better about himself. He is then able to focus on the task or material at hand.
Take for example a child who feels bothered and upset by something his sibling or classmate has done to him. You, the child’s parent/teacher, acknowledge and validate the child’s feeling upset and distress. The child feels heard and is able to “let go” of the negative feelings. In other words, the feelings of being bothered and upset tend to naturally dissipate when the parent or teacher affirms and acknowledges them. It is easier for the child to move on to something else.
How exactly do I listen to my child?
Effective listening is a skill that requires ongoing awareness and practice. In future articles I will discuss specific tips and ways to nourish your child with this valuable tool.