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


Social Emotional Learning Coming to Atlanta Schools

Guess what I’ve been up to this summer?  I’ve been in school….where I just finished the summer semester teaching Educators in Thomas University’s Master’s Program. The course I teach is called Cultivating Collaborative Classrooms through Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and it is akin to the skills I teach parents to develop self-awareness, regulate emotions, and collaboratively problem-solve in their families.Along with my passion to support children (and parents) in their home environment, this is a dream come true to impact the lives of children in their school environment. It seems that research is finally validating what I’ve known for a long time–that children’s social and emotional development is important to their academic success in school.

Research shows that SEL has a positive effect on school climate with students showing better classroom behavior, more motivation to learn, and a deeper commitment to school. Of course, what finally got Education Administrators’ attention was research that showed students who received SEL instruction had achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction. Schools that implemented SEL into their curriculum also haddecreased disruptive classroom behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts and disciplinarian referrals.  And they also reported fewer incidences of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.
The pendulum is swinging the other way as we are beginning to realize the negative outcomes of the “zero tolerance” policies of the last decade.  Instead of suspending or expelling students for negative behavior, we need to teach them skills to deal with their anger and conflicts.
An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week said that Atlanta Public Schools will spend more than $1 million over the next year specifically to teach students how to become self-aware, responsible, caring adults through social emotional learning instruction.  And earlier this year, three bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress which earmark a portion of the national Education budget to SEL programs in schools nationwide.
Developing students’ ‘social-emotional learning skills’ will help improve their academic performance and behavior and have other benefits, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said.  “Research shows our students can master these SEL skills and develop their hearts, along with their smarts, to become better people than we could ever be,” she said in a written statement.
I’m so excited to be part of this movement toward teaching children valuable life skills that go way beyond their school years!