Reflective Listening

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Child Development

Reflective Listening - The Key to Positive Communication

Listening is a skill that requires practice, patience and persistence. Listening is different than simply hearing. It is the desire and ability to allow another person to express their thoughts and feelings without judging, interrupting or correcting. Too often as parents we neglect to allow our children the right to express themselves openly, in a safe arena. Instead we allow our emotions and our assumptions to take over as we listen. We need to allow our children to express their feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative, regardless of whether or not we agree with them. We need to let the child know that what they have to say is important and that we are interested in them, their thoughts and their feelings. Parents need to remember to refrain from arguing with the child about their ideas or their feelings as they have as much right to think or feel a certain way as you do. So often I hear conversations that go something like this (and I cringe):

Mommy my toe hurts.
Oh look at that little scrape, that doesn't hurt.

So what message are we sending to the child? One that says "you are not capable of knowing whether or not you are hurting. You are confused and only I can determine if you are in pain. By so doing, you are telling the child that you have no empathy for his/her feelings or circumstance. And by example you are teaching them to negate the feelings and experiences of others; and that is how sociopaths are created.

One way to become an effective listener is to incorporate mirroring techniques into our listening style. Mirroring is listening fully to what the other person is trying to communicate without judging, interrupting or criticizing. After the person is finished, the listener summarizes what they think they heard and then asks the listener if that was what they said. If the listener's summarization is confirmed then s/he may respond by expressing "I" messages. If the listener is told that the message heard was not complete or accurate, the speaker needs to reiterate the message clearly and concisely. The process continues until the listener is clear about what the speaker is attempting to say. This is especially true with children; as children aren't skilled at organizing their words in a way that accurately expresses their feelings.

An Example of Reflective Listening
Person A
Look, I'm sick and tired of you always singling me out and acting like I'm your problem. Why don't you take responsibility for yourself instead of trying to blame me all the time? I'm not the idiot you always think I am.
Person B
I didn't realize that you think I single you out, and I can see that it makes you feel bad; and it seems to you that I don't accept or take responsibility for my part in the problem; and you want me to know that you're not a bad person. Is that correct?
Person A
I guess; that's pretty much what I said. - (stunned and anger dissipating)

This technique at first, may feel awkward and strange, but after you have practiced it and become comfortable with it, It will become a natural part of your communication style. By using mirroring you are better able to understand your child/partner and less likely to resort to yelling, criticizing or negating their feelings. This technique also enables the child/partner to feel safe in communicating with you and will help him/her to feel comfortable coming to you with problems.

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