Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More
In Part 1, we explored the reasons you might want to nurture a secure attachment with your child and the many benefits it provides for a lifetime of satisfying relationships for them as they grow.
In this post, we will take a closer look at three key skills that will naturally enable you to listen more carefully and respond to your child in a way that will make them feel securely attached to you. You can practice these skills with any aged child. Simply modify your approach based upon their age.
1. Show empathy.
Empathy is the ability to feel something similar to what another person is feeling. It communicates a deeper level of care and concern. When your child is experiencing an emotion, you can extend empathy by trying to imagine what it would feel like to be in his or her position and then allow yourself to feel that emotion.
In order to empathize effectively we must learn to listen carefully. We don’t simply tune in to the words but we listen for the feelings behind the words. We listen with an “emotional ear.” Make a sincere attempt to understand your child’s emotion before giving advice. When emotion arises it is a natural teaching opportunity for building emotional intimacy.
For example, say your 12-year-old son is struggling with school and says to you: “I can’t wait until school is out for the summer. I especially can’t wait until math is over.” You respond with: “Why? What’s so bad about math?” Your child goes on to tell you that his teacher Mrs. Johnson doesn’t like him and called on his three times this week to write out his homework answers on the board and they were all wrong. So rather than try to get more information, you attempt to step into the emotion and say, “It sounds as though you felt very embarrassed about having the wrong answers and showing it in front of the class? Not just once but three times in one week. That sounds like it must have been very difficult for you.”
This type of empathy sends the message to your child that you really hear the core of what they are trying to say: in this case it was a deep feeling of embarrassment. When they feel as though you really “get” them, they will inevitably feel compelled to keep talking to you about their concerns.
2. Tune into your child’s communication signals.
Verbally this includes words, tone of voice, rate of speech and intensity of expression. Non-verbally it’s body language, such as facial expressions, posture, gestures. When you are able to tune in to these nuances of their emotion and respond with empathy and understanding, you are practicing mindfulness, which is the ability to be completely present in the moment. That type of focus communicates to your child that they have your complete and undivided attention.
3. Reflect back to them the emotion you hear or observe.
Reflect back what you notice instead of posing probing questions. Example: “It sounds like you are upset because you have to do your homework and won’t be able to go outside anymore tonight.” Avoid saying, “I understand how you feel.” Why? Because you may not know exactly how they feel and it can shut down the motivation to keep talking.
…you will begin to see your relationship with your child take on a whole new dimension in your ability to relate meaningfully to one another.
As you get started on practicing these skills, make it your goal to have at least one conversation with your child this week in which you attempt to listen carefully to their verbal and non-verbal communication and empathize with the emotion you hear embedded in their words. If you will continue to practice you will begin to see your relationship with your child take on a whole new dimension in your ability to relate meaningfully to one another.
Related Reading: Building a Securely Attached Relationship with Your Child: Part 1