Giving children full attention with active listening is a very effective way to help children become calmer and re-gain their composure. Simple cues, both verbal and physical, can show children that they are truly being listened to and can help avoid tantrums. Once children feel that their parents are on their side, they are able to become calmer and are more open to finding and accepting new solutions.
When it comes to good parenting, actions often speak louder than words. It is simply not possible to provide children with the attention they need while multitasking. Children are keenly aware of whether they’re truly being heard. Active listening means that parents are completely tuned-in to their children; it is reflected in both words and body language (in cartoon: “Here, sit down so you can tell me”). Listening with care and sensitivity shows kids that they are really being heard, and helps them calm down and focus on finding constructive solutions to their problems. Active listening by parents also promotes children’s emotional resilience (Wolin et al., 2000) and is a key aspect of developmental parenting, which is believed to support many positive child outcomes (Roggman et al., 2008).
Developmental parenting involves:
1) Affection, through positive expressions of warmth toward the children (sitting next to them, directly facing them, etc)
2) Responsiveness, by attending to children’s cues, and
3) Encouragement, by supporting children’s activities and interests.
The manner in which you demonstrate affection, responsiveness and encouragement matters a lot. For example, by putting aside computers and other distractors (in cartoon: the dad puts his computer to the side), by kneeling down to the child’s height or simply positioning their body to face the children, parents show children that they are their first priority. Not only does this enhance a child’s self-esteem and sense of worth, but it also models the behavior we want from our children. By tuning-in to children, parents help children develop healthy social habits and listening skills that facilitate positive relationships with both parents and peers alike.
This does not mean that children should always be allowed to interrupt their parents all the time. For example, when parents need quiet time to get work done, they should first communicate and set expectations with their children to reduce or avoid interruptions. Children should be made aware that there are boundaries to respect and rules to follow (See Magic Way 3). However, in situations where a child can expect help from parents, giving your child full attention, using both verbal and physical cues, can be very effective to help defuse tension and avoid temper tantrums.
Key take-aways to give your child full attention:
1) Affection: demonstrate signs of affection through positive expressions of warmth, for example by inviting your child to sit next to you (in cartoon: “Here, sit down so you can tell me”).
2) Responsiveness: give physical or verbal cues that you are giving full attention, for example by putting your computer aside for a minute, or kneeling down to speak to your child.
3) Setting boundaries: giving your child full attention does not mean that your child should always come first. Parents who need quiet time to get work done should firmly set expectations early with their children. Children need to be made aware that there are important boundaries to respect and rules to follow (See Magic Way 3).