Jump Right In & Active Listen

Jump Right In & Active Listen

One of the best things about teaching P.E.T. is that I get to hear the excitement and wonder in parents' voices when they have Active Listened for the first time! Parents sometimes proudly share their stories after just one session on this skill. I'd like to think it was the superlative instruction, but I know better:

Many parents have immediate success when they try out this listening skill. Even before they acquire a reasonable level of competence at Active Listening, they often report some startling results.
— Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, page 66

And talk about quick! An old high school friend emailed me after simply reading my first blog entry on Active Listening:

I haven't seen this beautiful friend from high school in many, many years. Now she is ALing ten-year old Adam. Big shout out to you both!

I haven't seen this beautiful friend from high school in many, many years. Now she is ALing ten-year old Adam. Big shout out to you both!

Remarkable, no? You see from this and the stories below that it doesn't matter if the Active Listening is not perfect (here, there was a bit of early Solutioning) -- children benefit greatly nonetheless from the parents' acceptance and willingness to empathize. 

Before I share more, though, let me first acknowledge the shaky feelings that can also accompany this new skill.

More than a few parents struggle with ALing their children. Sometimes it's a grueling, statement by statement effort because you are feeling triggered. If that's you, I am sending a gentle, empathetic hug -- been there myself many times, dear reader.

Thank you, my friend, for helping me feel felt!

Thank you, my friend, for helping me feel felt!

One friend was having such a hard time Active Listening her son that she was really losing confidence. Yet, when I had a problem one day, she so accurately detected my underlying emotions and reflected back my reality that I cried with relief. We were both amazed at how she had "split the speck of dust on the bull's eye in half!"

Moral: If it's too hard with one of your kids, try building your AL muscles on other less threatening creatures walking this earth!

As for the big problem of finding space in your heart so that you can help your child despite her whining, pushing, yelling, rolling eyes or sarcastic come-backs (all cues and clues that she is unable to meet a valid need and, like so many adults, has yet to master assertive I-Messages), you might want to read my post on how I learned to pay attention to myself first. (And I've bought a bunch of books this summer I can't wait to sink my teeth into, including Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff.) 

So here are some examples from parents WHILE they were taking my course. Some are short; others take time to unwind down to the core problem and need. 

4 year old wants his bubble bath

He desired a luxurious bubble soak but it was late and his mother wanted either a quick shower or nothing at all. She told him this and he started screaming, “No, no, no!”  

Mom: (bending down to meet him eye to eye) “Oh, you must REALLY like bubbles! You are really upset!”  

Son: “Yeah!” 

He walked off, brushed his teeth and went straight to bed. 

3 year old is jealous of baby sleeping with Mommy

The older sister had developed a pattern of waking in the middle of the night to crawl into bed with the baby and her parents. The mother would take her back to her own bed explaining the choices, "There is no room for us all on our bed, but I am willing to sleep with you in your bed." Very upset, the girl would push back to the master bedroom. After one session on Active Listening, the mother tried another approach.

Mom: "You really want to sleep in our bed because it seems so unfair that the baby gets to sleep with us."

Daughter calmed immediately and they fell asleep together on her bed.

8 year old ostensibly worried about ink poisoning

It was bedtime on the evening of the parent's first session on Active Listening.

Daughter: “Pen tips don’t have poison in them, do they?”

Mom: “Something’s bothering you about pens.” (Mom reported she normally would have said, "Of course they don't!") 

Daughter: “Molly said today that pen tips are poisonous so I shouldn’t draw on my hand!”

Mom: “That really upset you!”

Daughter (tearing up): “Yes! If there was poison in the tips of pens why would so many kids draw on their hands?!” 

Mom: “You feel Molly is not right to say such a thing!”

Daughter: “And then Sally agreed with her!!” (Sally is the daughter's best friend.)

Mom: “Oh, that was hard because then it was two against one.”

Daughter: “Molly always tries to say things to get me mad and get Sally to be on her side.”

Mom: “That’s hard for you and can feel lonely.”

Daughter: “Actually, you know, I think Molly is jealous of me because I’m best friends with Sally. But we ARE best friends, and we’re both Korean and you and her mom are friends so Molly can’t change all that!” 

Mom: “You believe even though Molly envies your friendship with Sally, your friendship is strong and so you don’t really have to worry!”

Daughter: “You know, I think it’s because Molly’s mom is always so concerned about hygiene. She must have told Molly that about the pens.”

Mom: “Uh-huh.”

Daughter: “Let’s go to sleep!” 

7 year old painfully awkward about making mistakes in class

The parent was helping her child with practice problems in preparation for the entrance test into the gifted program at school. The daughter got to a problem that she looked at for a while but couldn't answer. She became angry, threw her pencil and a pillow, and stomped off screaming, "I'm so mad!"   

Mom: "You get so angry when you can't answer a problem."

Daughter: "I don't like doing problems. I don't know how to do them."

Mom: "You're frustrated when you can't get the answer."

Daughter: "You make me do them. They're too hard."

Mom: "The problems are difficult for you."

Daughter (starting to cry): "Yes. I get mad when I can't get the right answer. I feel like I'm the dumbest person in the world."

Mom: "You feel dumb."

Daughter: "Especially at school when the teacher corrects me. I feel so dumb."

Mom: "This also happens at school!"  

Daughter: "The teacher does it nicely but I feel dumb. I really get mad when I've learned it before and I forget. Sometimes, I say the wrong word or I don't understand what she is asking. The other kids don't seem to have the same problem."

Silence for a few moments. [Silence is a powerful passive helping skill we discuss in the course. Mom said she refrained from Reassuring the child about just how smart she was.]

Daughter: "Mom, this is a long conversation. Can I go now?" 

And she was off to play!

I hope these dialogues inspire you to get your feet wet or to jump right in! The water's real nice.

Active Listening has been found to be directly correlated with more happiness -- hee, hee!

Active Listening has been found to be directly correlated with more happiness -- hee, hee!

Do you have a recent AL success you'd like to boast about in the Comments? Why not!


Credits: Man jumping in pool at http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-man-jumping-swimming-pool-image13564633; bull's eye at http://www.jeffsextonwrites.com/2010/11/the-1-secret-to-effective-copy/bullseye-22112600_std-2/; clear water at http://thegoodlife-lindsay.blogspot.com/2013_05_01_archive.html