May 19, 2009

Active Listening Guidelines

Active Listening is a powerful tool for helping children express and work through problems and upsets. Active Listening when misused, however, can actually add to a child's problem and undermine the helping relationship. The following guidelines will insure that your use of Active Listening is appropriate and helpful.

When To Use Active Listening

Active Listening requires certain conditions and attitudes to be present before it is an appropriate response to your child's troubled communication. You should Active Listen only when:
  • You get verbal or non-verbal cues that your child may have a problem or an unmet need.
  • You genuinely want to help and the time and place are convenient.
  • You feel accepting of your child; your child's behavior does not cause you a problem.
  • You feel separate enough from your child's problem that his solution to the problem, whatever it is, will be acceptable to you.
  • You are able to attend closely to your child. None of your concerns are so pressing that they will interfere with your concentration on your child's communication.
When NOT To Use Active Listening

There are clearly times when Active Listening should not be used without risking the creation of more problems. These times include when:
  • You get no cues and clues that the child is experiencing a problem. (Don't create them!)
  • You don't want to help in this case. You don't care, you're rushed, you're busy.
  • Your child's behavior is unacceptable to you. You are irritated or hurt by it.
  • You are invested in having your child reach the "right" solution to her problem. (Your Active Listening will then tend to be contaminated by hints in the "right" direction.)
  • Your own problems are too upsetting and immediate to allow you to be intently focused on your child's concerns.
  • Your child simply needs information which you have and he doesn't.
  • Your child states the problem or feelings so clearly and specifically that an attempt to feedback would feel redundant and patronizing. (Silence or acknowledgment is better in such cases.)
It is helpful to use a variety of expressions when you Active Listen. Repetition of one phrase such as "Sounds like..." or "You feel..." rapidly becomes irritating to your child and comes across as a technique rather than a genuine, natural and empathic response.

Practice using different words as you are Active Listening. One way to develop your Active Listening is to think about starting with only one part. This can be either listening to "Facts," thoughts, ideas, information, or listening only to "Feelings."

ACTIVE LISTENING TO FACTS (especially good in the No Problem Area)
  • The fact is...
  • You think...
  • The idea you have is...
  • What you are saying is...
  • Your view is...
  • You believe...
  • You feel...
  • It's really...
  • So you feel...
  • Looks like...
  • Sounds like you are...
  • Seems like your feeling is...
Relax, make your Active Listening as natural as possible. Using analogies that are age and interest appropriate are also good ways to develop a more natural variety of Active Listening responses.

Lead-ins include:

  • You feel...about...
  • It's...when...
  • You can't...and that's...
  • You're really...because...
  • The way you see it is...and that's...
  •'re really...
  • You are...that...
In its complete form Active Listening includes both the "Facts" (content) and the Feelings.
  • It's like being hit by a truck.
  • You feel your teacher really nailed you to the wall
  • You got hung out to dry
  • She really shot you down (military or video gaming)
  • So it's like you really struck out (sports)
As your Active Listening develops, you can refine it to include listening to multiple feelings and to conflicting thoughts and feelings your children and others have.


When your child has conflicting thoughts or feelings, you can begin by Active Listening to just the dilemma, or if the two parts are equally strong, you can include both of them in your Active Listening.

  • "You feel stuck."
  • "You feel torn."
  • "It's hard to decide."
  • You want to stay home and play and you want to go to the store with Mommy.
  • You'd like to buy that new video game today and you also want to save your money for a new bike.
  • You're excited about the idea of trying out for basketball, at the same time you're worried you might not make the team.
  • You feel stuck because you want to keep hanging out with your friends but they've all started smoking and you don't like to be around all their smoke.
  • You feel excited about getting asked to the dance and yet you're not sure you want to go with Mike.
  • It's hard to decide; you like all the resources a big university has to offer, however, the idea of life at a small college really appeals to you.
You don't need to be perfect! It's reassuring to know that, when you are listening with genuine empathy, your attention is on the child and your intention is to help her identify feelings and solve her own problem it can still "work." Imperfect Active Listening, unlike Roadblocks, will usually be accepted by the other and she will continue to talk about her feelings and explore solutions to problems and decisions.

May 13, 2009

Clear Sending in the No-Problem Area

Letting Them Know The Real You

In this course, self-disclosing messages are referred to as I-Messages. An I-Message is a communication about the self—the “I”.

An I-Message is authentic, honest, and congruent—reflecting the actual nature and strength of your thoughts and feelings. It is a clear message, understandable, and to the point, not masked in indirect or vague language.

Declarative I-Messages Are The Basic Form of Self-Disclosure

They are the declaration to others of your beliefs, ideas, likes, dislikes, feelings, thoughts, reactions—or any other statement that helps others know you better and understand how you are experiencing your life.

Some Examples of Declarative I-Messages:

“I believe the homework that your teacher’s given you is really important.”

“I think that we should have a military draft.”

“I feel discouraged about how much things cost these days.”

“I know you disagree strongly, yet I got real value from the first parent-faculty meeting, and I think we should give it a real chance.”

Preventive I-Messages Stop Trouble Before It Starts

Another important type of self-disclosure is one that lets your children and others know of some future need that you want to meet; it anticipates what you want to do or see happen. Such a message, because it clearly describes how you want events to turn out, greatly increases the chances that others will adjust their actions so as not to block what you need. Such a message may prevent a conflict. Such Preventive I-Messages are especially appropriate in the home. An example, familiar to every parent, is the announcement of the time dinner will be ready so that the children can finish what they’re doing and, ideally, help out in the kitchen!

Some examples of Preventive I-Messages:

“I need some uninterrupted time tonight so I can get the bills paid.”

“I’d like to hear of your weekend plans this evening so we can work out transportation ahead of time.”

“I’d love to come to dinner. Please remember, I don’t eat meat.”

"I’d like to set a limit on our holiday spending this year.”

Positive I-Messages Enhance and Strengthen Relationships

One of the most enriching forms of self-disclosure is the Positive I-Message. These are messages that exclusively describe parents’ positive feelings toward their children. Although kids do plenty of things that are a problem for parents, they also say and do many things that are a pleasure, often helping a parent in unexpected ways or displaying kindness, maturity, considerateness, or good humor just when it’s needed the most. When these behaviors occur, it is appropriate and important for parents to disclose any genuine positive feelings they have about them.

Unfortunately, many parents are only self-disclosing when they are upset with their child’s behavior. This is clearly appropriate self-disclosure, but the important point is that parents should disclose both their feelings of unacceptance and acceptance. Positive I-Messages that express appreciation, love, enjoyment, and affection toward children (spouse, friends, and others) can contribute greatly to warmer, closer, and more enjoyable relationships. Very young children, with their budding self-esteem and desire to be a “helper,” seem especially to thrive on Positive I-Messages.

Consider the value for you, your children, or others in the following examples of Positive I-Messages:

“I appreciate how quiet you were when I was paying the bills. I did it a lot faster, thanks to you!”

“I really like the story you wrote, James.”

"I was so proud when I heard you telling those kids you wouldn’t lie to cover them!”

“Honey, I really love you.”

It is important that Positive I-Message not be used to manipulate or “shape” a child’s behavior. Such ulterior motives invariably come through to the child and make your sincerity suspect. The Positive I-Message should be a “no-strings attached” expression of acceptance and acknowledgement.

Even though changing your child should not be the motive, parents who express a lot of positive feelings toward their children are often automatically rewarded with less unacceptable behavior, more trust, mutual respect and cooperation, more affection and caring. Like honesty, warmth and affection are highly contagious in families!