The easing of Coronavirus lockdown is cause for much celebration. But for some households, it may increase tension between family members. Children and Young People’s Counsellor John Kennedy looks at why active listening could help parents and carers manage disagreements.
Active listening as an alternative to ‘laying down the law’
This may be a familiar scenario to many: now that lockdown is easing, some family members want to rush headlong into social contact while others are cautious and fearful. The dilemma is how to move forward in as safe a way as possible for everyone.
As a parent/carer you may be tempted to just lay down the law about how it is going to be. Whilst understandable, this can lead to power struggles and conflict between family members. After months of everyone getting under each other’s feet at home, no one really wants more tension.
Active listening can, however, provide a more effective alternative.
Stop and feel your own emotions first
Before trying active listening, it is important to think about your own emotions first. What is likely to anger you or upset you in these discussions?
When we are stressed or anxious, our bodies are flooded by strong feelings. This can then lead to a knee-jerk reaction that can exacerbate conflict and make negotiation very difficult.
If we can anticipate what might make us feel like this, then we can take a break or breathe a little and let those strong feelings subside. Doing so will help us be less reactive and more able to engage in active listening.
Active listening in action
By really listening to others you let them know that they are entitled to a perspective, even if you disagree. Being understood is something most of us really value. It is also the starting point in finding a common solution like who, how and when to see people outside your household.
Here are a few tips on practicing active listening with children:
- Give your child and the conversation your full attention. Leaving phones in another room or on silent, switching off the TV and putting other tasks on hold are good examples of ways to support active listening
- Making eye-contact with someone is a non-verbal cue that what they are saying, and feeling is important to you. Try not to be distracted by other things in the room. If you are talking to a young child, make eye-contact on their level (e.g. sit down on the floor with them or kneel down)
- Control the urge to interrupt or try to hurry them up. Children – especially younger ones – make need more time to find the words to express themselves
- Reflect back what you have heard. This is a good way of letting your child know that you want to understand and are hearing what they are saying. Reflect back the key points and what they seem to be felling. For example, “Are saying you really want to see your friends and you are angry for not being allowed to?” When your response is a question, it is easier for the child to tell you if you have got it right. If it is not right, let them correct it and then reflect this back.
Active listening takes practice and family life is rarely straightforward. However, attempting to get a little better at listening, understanding and finding solutions is worth attempting. Especially as we negotiate our way towards a new normal.
Counselling and support parents, families and children
Our counselling services for children and young people are available individually or through a large number of Scottish primary and secondary schools. Find out more about our youth counselling service or freephone 0808 802 0050 to speak to one of our team.
We also provide support and counselling for adults through our Relationship Helpline. This free service is for any adult over the age of 16 in Scotland and offers support, signposting to specialist help and access to free counselling. Freephone 0808 802 2088 during opening hours.
John Kennedy MBACP
Counsellor - Children and Young People at The Spark Counselling
John is a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and a Children and Young People counsellor with The Spark. He primarily works with children and young people in Scotland, as well as counselling adults in his private practice. John is interested in how our significant relationships throughout life impact on how we relate to our self and others and thinking about ways we might create more secure, accepting relationships.