How well are you listening to your children?

attentive father--PAIDWhen our children come to us with a problem, we usually want to help them. So we console, interpret, advise, distract or praise. Other times, we feel we must teach our children, and so we interrogate, lecture, moralize or order. And probably more often than we’d like, we respond angrily–blaming, criticizing, ridiculing, shaming or withdrawing.

However, all of these responses are problematic–whether with our children, or with the adults in our lives. They often serve to stop the communication of real feelings and arrest the development of problem-solving skills. I always say it’s up to us as adults to keep the door of communication open with our children. Oftentimes that means we need to talk less and listen more in order to keep our foot in the door.

Take the quiz below, adapted from the classic Parent Effectiveness Training, by Dr. Thomas Gordon, to assess your listening skills.

  1. I let my children feel their difficult feelings, knowing that comments such as “Everyone goes through this” deny the strength of their feelings.
  1. I try to listen for the need beneath the words and respond to that.
  1. I make it a point to check in to see if I’ve understood something in the way my child intended it. When I do, I try to keep my own feelings, opinions and guidance out of it.
  1. When my child tells me something, I try to respond with either noncommittal phrases (such as “I see” or “Is that so”) or with an invitation to say more (such as “Tell me more” or “Go ahead, I’m listening”).
  1. I notice that when I listen to my children’s problems, rather than make suggestions or give advice, my children often come up with their own excellent solutions.
  1. When I hear my child out fully, my child is often much more willing to listen to my thoughts and ideas.
  1. When I let my children express their feelings openly and completely, the feelings often seem to disappear quickly.
  1. I really want to hear what my child has to say; if I don’t have the time to listen right at that moment, I say so and make time for it later.
  1. I’ve learned to trust that my children can find perfectly good solutions to their problems on their own.
  1. I understand that my children are separate, unique individuals, and that their feelings and perceptions are not necessarily the same as mine.
  1. When I stay away from moralizing, interpreting, ordering and advising, I find that I learn a lot more about my children. Sometimes, I even learn from my children.
  1. I know that just listening doesn’t always bring about immediate change and that it’s sometimes OK to leave things on an inconclusive or incomplete note.
  1. I understand that listening to children express their feelings can help them accept a situation they know they cannot change.

Authentic communication with our children has rewards more valuable than a pot of gold. Real listening may be the rainbow bridge we need to get there. If you scored fewer “true” answers than false, you could probably benefit from improving your listening skills. I’d love to support you in building your communication skills and improving your family relationships.

I invite you to email me to set up a complimentary 20-minute consult to see if my services could benefit your situation.


The way we interact and communicate with our children often determines whether or not the door to communication stays open.  Begin to notice those moments when you sense your child has “shut the door” on communication and try to remember what you said or did immediately prior to that.  Often our tone of voice or our choice of words comes across as criticizing, judging, or blaming. These are sure-fire ways to bring up defensiveness and cause the door to shut. If we want to keep the door to communication open, it’s up to us as parents to communicate in ways that invite openness, nonjudgment, acceptance, and collaboration.


Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications


Are you and your partner on the same page?

couple fighting PAIDWhen it comes to something as important and intentional as raising children, it’s no wonder that there is often conflict between parents about the best way to go about it.
While it’s not necessary for both parents to have the exact same parenting style; it is better when you can work together in a way that complements each other, rather than  conflicts with each other.  So how do you work through your differences in order to share a common vision, appreciate each other’s strengths, and work together as a team?
To start with, it helps to reframe how you view conflict around parenting and any other areas of your relationship.  Conflict is inevitable, but all those extra layers of suffering we pile on it are not — the name-calling, the aggression, the anger, the shutting-down, the withdrawing.  These are all tragic expressions of unmet needs that we don’t have a clue about how to get met and so we unskillfully add salt to the wound.
Conflicts are actually wonderful opportunities to model for your children how to problem-solve and resolve differences with respect, honesty, and authenticity. These will be life-skills that your children will carry into their own relationships.
The only problem is…this is hard to model for your kids if you didn’t have it modeled for you.  And it’s not like the school system we were educated in taught these skills either.  These kinds of communication and problem-solving skills often have to be learned in adulthood.  But hey, better late than never, right?
Fortunately, I’ve found a way to help couples learn, practice, and hone these skills through a process that I call the Couples Communication Game (CCGame). There are 3 phases to the CCGame:   Phase 1 uses a unique deck of cards which supports each person getting clear on what’s important to them about the situation.  Phase 2 is a process which supports each person feeling fully heard and understood.  In Phase 3,  we problem-solve and learn how to make concrete, doable, positive requests to help each person get closer to what they identified was important in Phase 1.
I’m actually giddy with the results I’ve seen so far and the potential for this Game to be a real “game-changer” in families.
If you would like to explore if this process could help you and your partner “get on the same page,” email me at sherri (at) parentingheart (dot) com.   I’d be happy to tell you more and answer your questions.

Hear what other couples are saying about the CCGame:

“We have attended two different kinds of counseling during the last couple of years but we still continued to have some of the same stresses in our relationship.  The Couples Communication Game was a different approach.  It seemed to get to the core of the matter more easily.  Using the cards, we both felt we were being heard and it gave us a tool to express a need that we maybe would have had difficulty expressing without the cards.  After just 3 sessions with Sherri and the CCGame, we are pleased that on a few occasions we have been successful at a beginner’s level with using the strategies of the Game outside of the sessions.  We would recommend the CCGame to anyone who has a relationship that is important to them.”   — Sarah Keeling and Bob Hayes

“My husband and I did three sessions of the Couples Communication Game with Sherri.  It was a very good experience for us.  We found that working with Sherri as a coach, and using the form of the Couples Communication Game really helped us to jump start working through our differences in a more focused way.  The visual of having the game board and the cards, and having Sherri there as a coach made a huge difference for us.  We didn’t get stuck or stalled by differences of opinion.  We had a neutral, non-judging voice to help us through rough spots.  We had the cards and game to help us when we were stuck about identifying our feelings and needs.  I felt that the structure of this game helped us to zero in on where our conflicts were, and not go off track and get distracted.  Now we can do the game on our own, knowing that we have Sherri as a resource if we get stuck on something.  Thank you, Sherri!”  –Audrey , Decatur, Georgia

“A heartfelt Thank You to an amazing person, friend and coach.  We are so glad that Sherri was there for us during this difficult time and was equipped with just the right professional skills and tools. The Couples Communication Game we worked through with Sherri has made a tremendous difference in our lives. We have been married for only 4 years, but have faced many difficult situations already and were at a point of feeling stuck.  The CCG got us thinking clearer and deeper, listening better to each other’s needs and refreshing and renewing meaningful and deep communication about what truly matters.  Sherri effectively got to the root of things, that we could not have gotten to ourselves.  She guided us through issues and we were able to set realistic, clear and specific resolutions.  We are thankful to know about this great tool which we can use over and over again. We highly recommend this tool not only to people looking for support with communication, but also to anyone looking to refresh relationships and investing in what truly matters.  We could not have asked for a better coach to guide us through this process and can highly recommend Sherri.”  –Jacqueline & Andrew, Atlanta, GA