Your 3 year old daughter, Megan, is trying to build a tower with blocks. It keeps falling down. After three tries, the fourth time it falls down again. She picks up a block and hurls it, before throwing herself on the floor and dissolving into tears.
Being the ever vigilant mom, you see this meltdown and conclude, “Hmm. Looks like my little girl has an emotional fever.” You go to Megan to console her.
This is your moment of decision. Some moms would scold. “Young lady, you don’t throw blocks like that. You could have broken something or hurt your brother.” That scolding, although completely warranted, does not console and creates emotional distance between you and Megan.
Other moms might go into lecture mode. “Darling, how do you expect to get that tower made if you just give up like that? You know what they say, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Again, lost opportunity and, by the way, you might duck after the lecture because Megan might just wing the next block at you.
When your child has a problem, and you notice symptoms of an emotional fever, active listening is the go-to remedy. Scolding or lecturing take lots of empty words to make your point. These tactics are all about you and your power. Active listening uses an economy of words. The fewer the better. Your goal is to try to say back to Megan what you think she might be feeling in the moment. “Wow! You’re really frustrated right now, huh?” As a rule of thumb, most people can accurately state a feeling in five words or less. More words creeps into lecture mode, or unnecessary explanation that dilutes the impact of shared feeling. However, as long as you see symptoms of an emotional fever, continue active listening. Stay current with what your child is saying. Most kids can say they are mad, glad, sad, or bad. Active listening helps them expand their feeling word vocabulary and enriches the emotional intimacy you are building with your child.
When helping your child through a difficulty, use active listening. And, did you know? Less is more.