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Children are more likely to open up if they feel you’re really listening to them.

Take a break and listen to your child. Specific actions – like making eye contact, kneeling down to your child’s level and even tilting your head – show your child you are listening. They also help you stop and really listen. If you can’t talk at that moment, you might say, ‘Let’s talk soon. I'm in the middle of something’.

Repeat what you heard. It’s often useful to restate what you heard and put your child’s feelings into words. You might say, ‘You wanted a turn on the swing just now, didn’t you?’ or ‘You seem sad about going to day care today’. These reflective statements acknowledge and give words to your child’s feelings. But do this carefully. If a child is in the middle of a tantrum, saying ‘You’re really cranky and out of control!’ might aggravate the situation rather than help it.

Ask specific questions to gather more information. You might say, ‘Can you tell me exactly what happened?’ If it makes sense to talk more, you might ask, ‘What upset you the most?’ Follow-up questions both acknowledge your child’s feelings and get your child talking about them. And they help you gather more information, so you can better understand what actually happened and how your child is thinking about it.

Before you say what you think, ask a question
If your child says, ‘That’s not fair’, instead of jumping in with an explanation you might ask, ‘What do you think would be fair?’ Then, wait for the answer – and ask a follow-up question. Hint: if you find yourself thinking of your response while your child is talking, then you’re not really listening.
– Michael Thompson, PhD, co-author of Raising Cain
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  • Last updated or reviewed 26-05-2010
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    © 2002-2006 Public Broadcasting Service. Reprinted from with permission of the Public Broadcasting Service.