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Active Listening | The Rejected Parent Newsletter

This newsletter is for parents who are being rejected by their children and those who support them. I will be sending regular newsletters to give suggestions and support to parents dealing with rejection from their children on all levels. I generally support parents whose children are 18 years and under; however, some of this will apply to parents with adult children as well.

Hello Reader,

There may be future opportunities to have brief conversations with your child. While talking to them, there are ways to improve your relationship with your child. One way to reconnect is through Active Listening: listening to understand without interrupting them. When your child tells you something, you can paraphrase what your child said to show you understand them.

In my experience, children and teenagers commonly complain about their parents: they don't feel heard or understood. Even before working with court-involved families, children of all ages complained that they weren’t taken seriously or listened to by the adults in their families. When there is a custody dispute, and a child is taking sides, this complaint seems to be amplified by children who reject their parents.

One thing that is often missing with strained parent-child relationships is trust. Using active listening skills can help rebuild that trust to help solve problems and avoid and defuse conflict. Practicing active listening shows your child that you respect them and care about what they have to say. It is also an essential part of communicating effectively.

The following are some key points to help you improve your active listening skills:

  • Pay attention and avoid distractions (like phones, screens, etc.).

  • Show you’re listening by nodding, leaning forward, and maintaining eye contact with the other person.

  • Summarize or paraphrase what they are saying to show you understand their viewpoint.

  • Ask relevant, clarifying questions.

  • Don’t interrupt or finish someone’s sentences.

  • Try to feel what the other person is feeling if you can.

  • Listen to understand.

Now, let's try an example of active listening.

Your friend says, “I had fun going to a concert the other night. I didn't expect it would go so long. I started to fall asleep at the end and got frustrated that my partner didn't wake me up.”

Reflect on what you heard from your friend and then express how your friend may have felt: “It sounds like you were enjoying the concert you went to until it went longer than expected, and you fell asleep. I can understand how that would have been frustrating, especially if your partner didn’t wake you up and you couldn’t finish listening to their set, and perhaps you even missed some of your favorite songs.”

Did you feel anything as you read your friend's response? This is a general example of a situation where I purposefully didn’t involve a child. Sometimes, parents get triggered by reading examples about children and parents, and it’s hard to be in a healthy emotional place to understand these concepts.

In this example, we reflected the other person’s experience in our own words, not just parroted what they told us. Also, if you could hear me say these words in the example, there would be a caring tone to my voice and body language as I leaned forward with a look on my face that reflected the pain my friend was expressing. Nonverbal communication is also important in active listening. It brings another level of understanding to the other person when they can see that you are really “getting” their feelings and seeing your face reflect a similar emotion to what they may be feeling.

Listening intently and responding with your understanding of what they said will begin to build back the trust that has been broken. Experiment with this technique with a trusted friend or family member to gain confidence. Now that you know how to listen and help the other person feel heard and understood, you can also use this with your child.

-Cathy Himlin


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