When We Listen to Understand

A few months ago we received a phone call from a parent of a boy my son goes to school with.  The mom asked if my son would be interested in coming over to play with her son at their house after school the next day.  My husband and I were excited about this.  We moved to Israel not too long ago and this would be our son’s first ‘play date’ with an Israeli child.

We told our son about this exciting news the next morning as he was getting ready for school, but he did not seem as excited as we were.  In that moment I had a choice.  I could have jumped in and said something like, “Isn’t this so exciting!  It is going to be so much fun!”, and go on to tell him all the reasons why he would have a great time.  That would have been my natural reaction.  After all, this was a great idea, one that would get him on the path of making new friends in our new community.   But at the time I was reading a book I highly recommend to parents: “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk”  by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and I had just finished the chapter on ‘Dealing with Feelings.’

In the chapter, the authors suggest that one of the ways to show support to your child is by ‘naming the feeling.’  So instead of jumping in with telling my son how I wished he would feel, I decided to try out this new suggested tool.

I looked at my 5 1/2 year old son  and realized that he had a confused look on his face.  Here is how the conversation went:

“You look confused sweetheart.”

“Yeah.  My legs want to go, but (and he pointed to his chest up) this part of me doesn’t.”

Wow, I was not expecting him to be able to express himself so clearly.  I continued to ‘name the feeling’…

“Hmmm, I see.  It seems like part of you wants to go and part of you is nervous, or scared.”


“What are you afraid of?”

“I’m afraid that nobody will speak English and understand what I am saying.”

I felt so thrilled that he was able to express himself, but I made an effort to stay very ‘matter of fact’ so that I could give him the support that he required.   I went on to ask him what would help him feel better about going and we had a discussion about how we would ‘deal’ with the language situation and came up with a solution he was satisfied with.

Then his whole manner changed.  He smiled, and ran to breakfast.  He was excited just like we hoped he would be.

I wonder what would have happened had I not chosen to ‘name the feeling’ and instead jumped in with solutions.  My son probably would have felt invalidated, confused, and forced to do something he would not have fully been comfortable with doing.  A tantrum and argument would have likely followed.

Choosing to take the time to stop, be mindful, recognize what he may be feeling, and giving him the opportunity to express what he was really feeling helped me know how to support him.  I was thrilled to have this new simple tool in my back pocket.  It was such a gift and reading about it when I had was perfect timing!

Making the choice to listen to understand to my son, as opposed to trying to convince my son to go to this play date came from a place of wanting to relate to my son, instead of trying to control him or the situation.

I learned both from my personal and professional experience that when we listen to understand we boost our child’s self-esteem, we are sending them the message that what they are feeling and what they have to say matters.  Constantly telling them what to do sends them the message that we don’t believe in them; that what they are feeling or what they have to say doesn’t matter.

My son ended up staying at his new friend’s house for over two hours that day.  When I called him in the middle of it (as was part of our solution), he sounded great and actually said that he did not want to speak, but instead get back to playing.  He sounded confident and happy on the phone and my heart was filled with gratitude to Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.   (And of course, I gave myself a pat on the back too.)


How about you?

How do you like to be listened to?

What is it like for you when you are feeling upset or anxious about something and someone you care about disregards your feelings and jumps in with solutions and just tells you, “Everything is going to be okay, don’t worry about it,” without hearing how you may be feeling or showing any interest in your concerns?

Today, take the time to be fully present and to listen to understand to someone that you care about.  Take the pressure off of yourself and hold yourself back from trying to fix the problem and make it go away.

We all know that wanting to fix someone’s problem and not wanting them to feel pain is coming from a very well-meaning place, but think about what message you want to send to the person you really care about.

I would love to hear about your experience with this.  So please share a comment or send me a quick e-mail.  I promise to really listen to what you have to say.


Get R.E.A.L.

Respect yourself; find

Encouragement within;

Appreciate your unique gifts and strengths;

Love yourself…unconditionally!

Contact Jenny “The Get REAL Coach” today so that you can start getting REAL with yourself and the people you care most about.

In Israel: 054.331.5781   *   American Line: 718.395.2331   *   Email: getrealcoaching@gmail.com

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Career & Relationship Coach | Leadership Trainer | Founder of UnleashingU!

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2 Responses

  1. Janet

    I think it’s a fantastic idea to help the child express what he or she is feeling, but I’m concerned your method of naming the feeling may cause more projecting one’s own feelings, or suggesting rather than finding out from the child which feeling it is. I took the idea though and now when I see my children need to express an emotion I say to them “I’m going to list a few different feelings, which one is how you’re feeling?” Then I go on to cover the spectrum, throwing the one I think it right somewhere in there. I list them slowly, so they have a chance to think about it. “Angry…happy…nervous….excited…shy….embarrassed…” etc. Thank you for the general idea!

  2. Jenny

    Janet – Excellent point. I love your idea of naming a few feelings that the child can choose from. Thank YOU for sharing!

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