Expert Parenting Advice
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Why kids will listen to you if you listen to them

How to reflect back and validate your child's emotions.

A couple of months ago, I spoke to Nathan Wallis, a child therapist and neuroscience educator

Nathan is also the host of the documentary “All in the Mind”, and co-host of the TV Series “The Secret Life of Girls”.

I asked Nathan for his best advice to get kids to cooperate and listen, and he said:

My best technique for getting kids to be more cooperative is to listen to them. I find that children listen to you if you listen to them. So, it’s active listening, paraphrasing back what they mean, and reflecting back the emotion behind what they’re saying first before I speak to the content, because children are mainly in their emotional brain.

Nathan Wallis

When I first heard this advice, it seemed almost too simple. Because, of course I listen to my kids! They talk to me all the time.

But, since speaking to Nathan, I have started to notice how easy it is to not listen to my kids.

When my kids come to me with a problem, my first instinct is to offer them a solution. And because I think I know what is going on, I often don't take the time to really listen to their problem, and to really try to understand how they are feeling.

For example, yesterday my daughter was coming to me constantly with complaints about her brother. "He pushed me." "He took my pen." "He is sitting too close to me."

Each time, I offered her solutions to her problems, without really thinking about how she was feeling. "Tell him you don't like being pushed." "Here's another pen." "Sit at the other table."

But then, finally, I realized that she wasn't really looking for a solution. She was upset and wanted someone to know that.

So, I followed Nathan's advice and, instead of offering more solutions, I focused on listening to her, reflecting back her emotion, and validating what she was feeling.

And what a difference it made!

We ended up having a conversation about how she was feeling and why she was upset, and afterwards she was in a much better mood. And no more complaints.

In the interview with Nathan, he gives an example of how to reflect back and validate your child's emotions.

He also explains why doing this works to calm down your child's brain, and gives them more access to the rational, thinking part of their brain. And the more they use the rational part of their brain, the easier it becomes for them to stay calm and rational.