I’ve talked with you at length about how active listening is the go-to response when your child has an emotional fever. Emotional fevers come in all shapes and sizes. A verbal outburst, defiance, silence, being mean to siblings, exclamations like “not fair!” and the like all indicate feelings that are going on inside your child. If they are not expressed in helpful words, then they will continue to come out in unhelpful behavior. In your active listening response, be creative with your words and dare to be different.
Ten year old Emily comes in from outside and slams the door behind her. Recognizing an active listening moment, you comment, “You feel angry.” “You won’t believe what Alice just said to me.” “You feel surprised.” “Whatever, she’s so mean.” “You feel rejected.” With exasperation, Emily huffs, “Mama, will you get off the ‘you feel’ kick.”
Going through the motions of active listening, with repeatedly leading in with “you feel,” will shortly fall on deaf ears. Emily just knows that mama is trying re-state her feelings, but not trying to be with her in her emotional pain.
Emily comes in from outside and slams the door. “Wow! That was loud. Everything okay dear?” “No, it’s not okay. Alice just called me a freak because I got my hair cut short.” “It sounds like Alice hurt your feelings by calling you names.” Raising her voice, Emily clenches her fists and sobs, “She’s so mean.” Mama gathers her into her arms, stroking her hair, and adds, “Alice and you are best friends. It really makes you sad when she says thoughtless things, and you don’t know what to do.”
By words and actions, mama is being with Emily in her emotional pain. The words are varied responses to what mama sees and hears from Emily. Emily may cry for a short while in her mama’s arm, and then mama will notice her emotional fever going down. Crisis calmed more quickly, and then they can think about problem-solving. Because mama was creative in her words and actions, and she dared to be different, Emily is more willing and able to find a good solution.