Helping Kids Deal with Their Feelings: Empathetic Parental Listening

The new routine of music lessons, practice and listening to the CD will be fun and doubtless challenging at times too!  These ideas never cease to amaze, even as the 'kids' get older! 

4 Ideas to try if a child seems in distress

1) Instead of listening with half attention, stop other activities, put cellphones on silent and out of sight,  turn off other ambient noise, turn to the child and give full, patient/silent attention without jumping in to answer right away. 

2) Instead of questions, blaming and advice, acknowledge the situation (eg. a misplaced piano book) with a word: "Oh?"  or Mmmmm or Uh huh.  "I see..."   The child might reply, 'maybe it's near my book bag on the floor by all the shoes' or 'No one would take my piano book, it must be in the pile of library books' 'May I use that orange canvas tote from now on, it's so bright?' By using simple words while listening with a caring attitude, the child can explore her own thoughts and feelings, possibly come up with solutions of her own. 

3) Instead of denying a child's feeling, give it a name. Parents don't usually give this kind of response for fear that by giving a name to the feeling, they'll make it worse.  Just the opposite is  true. The child who hears the words for what he is experiencing is deeply comforted. Someone has acknowledged his inner experience. (This works for adults too!) Example: On death of pet turtle, instead of saying, 'Don't cry its only a turtle' say, 'oh no! what a shock! Then, instead of 'now don't get so upset' or 'Stop it, I'll buy you another turtle' try: 'To lose a friend can hurt' and 'You really cared about that turtle.'

4) Instead of explaining and logic, give a child his wishes in fantasy. Sometimes when children want something they cannot have, adults reply with logical explanations of why they can't have it.  The harder we explain, the harder they protest. Example: Child wants cranberry juice which the family has run out of. Instead of 'I just told you we ran out! Why can't you listen?' say, 'I hear how much you want cranberry' 'I wish I had the magic power to float a thousand cranberries in here for crushing to make juice' Sometimes having someone understand how MUCH you want something makes reality easier to bear.

Excerpted from Faber and Mazlish, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk"