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Parenting Guide Sheets
19. Listening

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Page 19
Learning to Listen Beyond the Surface
a) Simple Basic Listening
b) Listening Beyond the Surface
c) Using Reflective Listening

  We've already thought about bad listening and so now we want to consider:
· simple basic listening, and
· listening beyond the surface.
a) Simple Basic Listening
This is a case of reiterating what we have said in various sections above.
It is frustrating and annoying when we try to communicate with people and they obviously don't listen.     
Listening therefore means paying attention to your child, and being seen to do so.     
You can indicate your attentiveness by:
· using ‘acknowledging' words: yes, right, OK, I understand, and so on
· by your body language, looking at them from time to time, or maintaining constant eye contact.
Listening also means taking in what your child is saying .
Your child will see through you if they ask you a question about what they've said and you don't know what they had said because your mind wandered.     
Simple basic listening means that you are communicating to your child that they are important and worthy of your attention. Thus you build your relationship and their self-esteem.
b) Listening Beyond the Surface

 Here you seek to hear beyond the words to the feelings.
 If you:
· recognise and understand your child's feelings,
· and let them know that,
                 that helps them think about what they are feeling and why, as well as appreciating your empathy.
 Notice the two parts: first you consider what the feeling is that is being conveyed, and then second you reflect back in words what you sense why they might be feeling that.
The following are two stages of exercise that are used to teach listening skills:
Level 1: Simple listening.

Find a couple of friends who will do this with you. Each time you do it, one person will be the Observer/Time-Keeper, another will be the Starter, and the other the Follower.
To start off the dialogue, the Starter takes one view of any random slightly contentious subject (or simply their life story perhaps if you want to make it easy) and speaks on it for 30 seconds, and is stopped at that point by the Time-Keeper.
The Follower has up to 20 seconds to first of all reflect back the gist of what the Starter had said before moving on to do 30 seconds of their viewpoint. They may do this by starting their time with the phrase, “I hear you saying…..” and then do their 20 second reflection of the key points the other person covered.
The Starter then has to do exactly the same and so they alternate until the Observer stops them.
The crucial point in the exercise is reflecting back that you have heard and understood the other person's point of view BEFORE carrying on with your side of the argument. If one ‘player' fails to do that, the Observer stops them and makes them go back and think what they heard and then reflect it (if they can!)
If you have never done this exercise before you may think it sound easy – until you try it, and then you realise how much we are thinking our own thoughts rather than listening to the person before us.

Level 2: Catching the Emotion

To be really effective, this requires rather more preparation by the Starter and the role of the Follower is that of Listener-Counsellor, who has to be pick up the feelings of what is being shared. The same sort of approach as in the Simple Listening Exercise is used but slightly different:
The Starter thinks of a case situation where they act out the role of someone who has been through a varied set of difficult circumstances, and also thinks what varied emotions they want to convey (without saying the words of those emotions).
The Starter then has 30 seconds to set the scene of their imaginary circumstances and start conveying an overall sense of what they feel about it.  
When the Starter is stopped by the Time-Keeper, the Follower has up to 20 (30 if needed) seconds to convey the feeling they were picking up, e.g. “That must have been very trying for you, I would think. Indeed if I were in your shoes I would be feeling very frustrated and angry about it.”  
When the Follower stops, the Starter can acknowledge agreement or disagreement with the diagnosis and then continue telling the multi-faceted story, taking up to a maximum of 30 seconds.
And so it continues until they agree to stop it (which is often fairly soon because initially such exercises can be quite tiring!)
The point to be emphasised here is that they are to catch the FEELINGS being conveyed
c) Using Reflective Listening
You will use reflective listening with your child when:
· they convey strong feelings by raised voice, strong language or actions, or   
· you sense they are holding back some hidden feelings, or   
· you have to say ‘no' in a difficult circumstances where you know they will be upset, or   
· when you simply know they are going through trying circumstances and are giving some of the signs noted below.
When you use reflective listening:
· don't make it clinical or artificial, but be natural – you can simply ask, “What are you feeling about that?” but that isn't you letting them know you understand, but it is a start toward them thinking about what they are feeling.
· try to catch what they are feeling – which doesn't mean you have to agree with it – such as anger, resentment, frustration, hurt, fear, anxiety.
· convey that back to them, e.g.
“Are you saying you feel upset because Granny forgot your birthday?”
“You feel disappointed that you didn't get into the team?”
“So you're feeling frustrated that nobody seems to be putting it right?”
“So you're actually wanting the job because you think you could do it well?”
· note that in each case you are identify some form of emotion and giving a suggested reason for it
· don't be put off if your child denies the emotion, simply invite them to share what they are feeling.
· sometimes watch for your child's body language which will convey clues as to what they are feeling such as:
o an obvious morose look
o hands being clenched and unclenched, indicating tension
o inability to sit still while talking, similarly indicating tension
o a shame-faced grin, acknowledging guilt
o a frown of disagreement
o their face lighting up, showing hope
In these varied ways you can become a parent who sees below the surface of their child and is able to convey understanding which will build you more together.
We hope we have given you plenty of food for thought and things you can do with your child.
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