One of the most challenging aspects of being human is dealing with and processing our wide-range of emotions. I think it is even more challenging to help someone else deal with and process their wide-range of emotions – especially when that person does not have the skills or life-experiences of an adult.
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (HTTSKWL&LSKWT) provides an entire section on “Helping Children Deal with Feelings” which is hugely beneficial in navigating the roller-coaster ride of emotions.
HTTSKWL&LSKWT is based on the work of Haim Ginott, a clinical psychologist, child therapist, parent educator, and author whose work has had a substantial impact on the way adults relate to children. At the heart of Ginott’s method is the recognition that denying feelings makes them more intense and confused. By contrast, the acknowledgment of feelings allows people to heal and consequently become better problem solvers.
Many of us are in the habit of denying feelings. We often argue with someone, insisting s/he doesn’t really feel the way they are saying they are feeling. Here are some examples:
Child: I hate this game!
Adult: Oh, honey, you don’t hate it. You played it yesterday with Sarah and had a great time. How can you say you hate it?
Most of the time this type of response shuts down further communication about the subject. The child won’t tell the adult what is really going on with the game because he/she feels unheard.
Here is an adult example:
Adult 1: Oh my goodness, I had the hardest day today! I had the slowest checker on the planet, the kids were whining in the checkout lane, then my bag split open and my apples rolled all over the parking lot. To top it all off, someone yelled at me when they slipped on one of the apples!
Adult 2: Take my advice, don’t go to the grocery store in the afternoon. Everyone knows the lines are longest then. And why would you take your children? That is a recipe for disaster right there. The way to solve your apple problem is with durable, resuable shopping bags – they don’t break like those cheap store bags.
Do you think Adult 1 feels heard? Or understood? Do you think she will talk openly to Adult 2 the next time she has a difficult day? Probably not.
When we don’t feel heard, we generally do one of two things, shut down or argue our position even more emphatically. When our initial statement hasn’t been accepted as valid, it is really difficult to move into healing mode or problem-solving mode which is where we really need to be to progress.
A skill that builds connection and helps others deal with their feelings is to listen with full attention. Really being present in the moment with them and allowing them to state their feelings is powerful. Many times all any of us need is to be heard. We don’t need advice or fixing or dismissal, we need listened to with a full heart. Our children need the same thing.
Here is one of my favorite depictions of the fixing mentality.
If listening with full attention isn’t a common practice for you, start small. Set a goal to listen with your whole heart and mind for one entire conversation with your child each day. Then build up your attention span and your connection abilities one conversation at a time.