I’ve shared with you how active listening is your go-to response when your child has an emotional fever. This is the proverbial “You feel…” comment, where you give your child what you think she is feeling at the moment. However, to engage your daughter, dare to be different. That is, be creative in how you empathize. Also, to help her know how important her feelings are to you, expand your responses.
Allison comes running in from outside, where she was talking to her friend, Jennifer. Allison slams the door and stomps into the kitchen, where you are cleaning up. “Jennifer says I’m dumb and she won’t play with me.” You gather her up in your arms and she sobs into your shoulder.
An active listening response might be, “You feel hurt.” Daring to be different, you could expand that with, “Aw, baby, it hurts when Jennifer says mean things to you.” Allison will then hug you closer.
Another tool in your response toolbox is called passive listening. Yep, you guessed it. This is simply being quiet and letting Allison just be or just talk. A verbal prompt that could help her share her feelings is called a noncommittal response. Us shrinks call this the therapeutic grunt, such as, “uh huh, hmmm, I see” This tells Allison that you are listening and encouraging her to share more.
A third tool for you is parroting. This is when you say back as a question exactly what she just said. “Jennifer says you’re dumb and that she won’t play with you?” Here, you are making sure that you heard right and again prompting her to continue. The fourth tool is paraphrasing. Here you give her content, but not necessarily feelings. “So she’s not playing with you because she thinks your dumb?”
Active listening is the gold standard for helping your child through tough times, but you can also expand your responses with parroting, noncommittal responses, paraphrasing, and just being quietly there with her, that is, passive listening. All of these options keep you engaged with your child in her hurt and let her know how important she is to you, helping her find her way out of her hurt. Expanding your responses helps you stay connected.