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Using Active Listening With Children To Avoid Communication Breakdowns

active listening with childrenCommunication breakdowns with your child can cause emotional reactions that can be quite overwhelming. In fact, it might even “trigger” a response from you that makes you feel out of control.

When expecting our first child it is safe to say that most of us are envisioning something very specific. We have this idea that we will be a calm, reasonable, patient parent that will guide our children into appropriate behaviours.

In turn, we also believe that we will have a calm, thoughtful child that will automatically be bold in facing their challenges. As a result, these beliefs often lead to us parenting the child we wish we had instead of the one we actually do.

What is your response when YOU are triggered?

Our daily lives are busy most days, hectic at times even. In order to keep everything running smoothly, we simply tell our kids what to do or not to do. Ignoring the fact that they may not understand or be ready for the particular change. Sometimes this can be done in a not so patient voice, which can lead to more sensitive children to act out in unwanted ways. In the end, we find ourselves triggered and struggling to hold it all together. active listening with childrenIn these outburst moments, we hear the words our child is saying. We may even see the outward unwanted actions they are displaying. The problem begins when we believe that this is an actual depiction of what our child is experiencing in their bodies. active listening with children
Kids will say things like:

  • I HATE school!
  • I DON’T want to go there!
  • I CAN’T get anything right!

As children they know certain words that can be used to identify their surface emotions regarding the issue at hand. However, many do not know the exact words to depict their true, inner feelings. This, in turn, can lead to the more undesirable responses such as; yelling, hitting and the throwing of whatever is closest to them.

Are you feeling overwhelmed?

active listening with children
If you are like most parents this is where you begin to feel overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to handle the situation. If you are out in public you may feel embarrassed by their behaviour. You may have even resorted to the yelling back response. This of course only works to increase the tension in an anxious child. Instead of diffusing the situation you have now managed to escalate it. What if I told the healing you are looking for is standing in the very child you are struggling with?


Children are very good at leaving clues as to how they are doing emotionally well before it gets to the escalated point of no return. It is our job as parents to watch for those clues and work to understand where they are coming from. Active listening with children and paying attention to where they are struggling is what calms the triggers before they are set off.

Understanding the trigger

What is it that seems to cause the breakdown? Are they in tears every day after school? If so, why is that? Are there particular areas they seem to fall apart more quickly in? Do they act out when having to switch from one activity to another? Are they more likely to fall apart when they haven’t had enough sleep? Or when they have not had enough to eat? Paying attention to those details is the first step to being able to catch and redirect them before it gets overwhelming for either you or them.
active listening with children

Feelings do not always equate to understanding.

Although they don’t always know what is going on within themselves, they do know that something is wrong and that they want to do whatever it takes to avoid it. We can learn to tune into their struggles when they cannot seem to find the words to express how they are feeling by active listening with children. This tool can help us to see what is coming down the road. While giving us time to figure out how best to support them before they begin to feel out of control.

Active listening with children is also what prevents us from spinning in circles on problems that amplify as the stress grows. As parents, we need to find better ways to accept our children for where they are at. In order to better help them understand their own feelings and how best to navigate their way through them.

active listening with childrenActive Listening With Children:

How would you respond to this statement?  Your child comes home from school and says; “We have to work in groups for science projects. I hate working in groups and I am not going to do it.”

A normal response would be; “You ARE going to do it because I don’t want to hear from your teacher. Or we all have to do things we don’t like. It’s life, get used to it.”

There are a multitude of ways that we as parents respond to our kids.

A lot of our responses are based on our own personal stress levels. What kind of day we have had, how much sleep we got or whatever other problems we may be dealing with at that moment in time. Sadly though these kinds of statements are perfect for shutting our kids down. active listening with childrenInstead what we want is for our children to talk because that is what gives us the chance to understand where they are coming from. Active listening with children provides this type of opportunity. While giving the child a chance to problem solve for themselves.

Discomfort can be a motivator. active listening with children

As parents, we will often jump in with solutions to their problems with what might work for “us”. However, that does not give our children the opportunity to sit in their discomfort and understand what it’s all about or where it is truly coming from.

Discomfort can be a motivator. It can even lead to some creative thinking skills being used.
Next time your child erupts over an instance like this at school, instead of reacting to the situation, try throwing a statement at it. Such as; “It sounds like working in groups is difficult for you.”

This shows your child that you understand where they are coming from without trying to fix or react to the problem. Leaving the door open to more conversation will help them to feel their way through the problem. While having you as their guide to finding a creative solution.

Want even more tips on how to use active listening to improve communication with your child? Click here for the complete interview with Valerie Ostara, author of “You, Your Child & Anxiety Monsters: Parenting An Anxious Child“.

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