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Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

20 Questions To Ask Your Child

Source:  Patti Ghezzi/School Family

One day your child tells you everything, from the consistency of the macaroni and cheese in the cafeteria to the hard words on the spelling test to the funny conversation she had with her best friend.

The next day…poof.

Parent: “So, what’s going on at school?”

Child: “Nothing.”

For many parents, the information they receive about what’s happening at school ebbs and flows, especially once their kids hit 10 or 11 years of age. Even younger children may be reluctant sometimes to share the details of school life.

It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong or that you’re somehow missing a key piece of the parenting puzzle. It may simply be that your child is asserting independence and craving a little privacy. “No one tells parents this,” says Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in adolescent relationships, family relationships, and stress. “Parents feel they are not very good at parenting.”

Of course, that’s not the case. You might just need to tweak your approach. Don’t interrogate, Sheras says. Kids don’t want to be grilled. Be subtle; be patient. Learn to listen intently to the words your child does offer. Watch your child’s body language and demeanor. Avoid yes-or-no questions if possible, and be specific. Try escalating—starting with simple questions and gradually delving into more sensitive topics.

If all else fails, wait it out. Try again later with a different approach, such as choosing a different time of day to start a conversation or taking your child out for a burger before asking questions. In a place where she’s comfortable, she might feel more talkative.

Don’t start the conversation with “We need to have a talk,” Sheras says: “That’s when a child dives under the table.”

Here are some questions that can help you get started.

  1. “I know you were stressed out about that math test. How did it go?”
  2. “I’m really proud of how well you’re doing in school. What are you studying these days that really interests you?”
  3. “You seem to have some good teachers this year. Which one is your favorite?”
  4. “If you could make up a teacher from scratch, a perfect teacher, what would he or she be like?”
  5. “When I was your age, I really didn’t like social studies. I just didn’t see the point in studying how people in Russia lived or what kind of languages Native Americans spoke. What subject are you really not liking these days?”
  6. “What’s your favorite time of day at school?”
  7. “What do you think about your grades? How does your report card compare with what you were expecting?”
  8. “We used to have the meanest boy in my class when I was your age. I still remember what a bully he was. Do you have anyone like that in your class?”
  9. “I’ve been reading a lot in the news about kids picking on other kids. What about at your school? Is that happening?”
  10. “I’m hearing a lot about bullying on the Internet. It sounds a little scary, but I really don’t know what it’s all about. Can you tell me about it?”
  11. “I noticed a few new kids in your class. Which ones have you been able to get to know? What are they like?”
  12. “I know it was hard for you when Kenny transferred to a different school. How’s it going without your best friend around?”
  13. “Who did you sit with at lunch today?”
  14. “I’m sorry you didn’t get invited to Sarah’s birthday party. I know you’re disappointed. How have things changed between you and Sarah now that you’re not in the same class?”
  15. “I really like the way you choose such nice friends. What qualities do you look for in a friend?”
  16. “I know you really like your new friend Caroline, but whenever I see her she’s being disrespectful to adults. Why don’t you tell me what I’m missing? What do you like about her that I’m not seeing?”
  17. “I can tell it embarrasses you when I insist on meeting your friends’ parents before letting you go to their house, but it’s something I need to do as your mom. Is there a way I could do it that would make you feel more comfortable?”
  18. “How’s it going with your activities and schoolwork? What would make it easier for you to manage your schedule and responsibilities?”
  19. “I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. How about we go for a walk and catch up?”
  20. “I’m sure I do things that embarrass you. What do I do that embarrasses you the most?”

Talking with your child should be an ongoing process. Keep the dialogue open, and be available so your child can find you when she feels like chatting.

One final piece of advice from Sheras: “Keep talking even when you think your kids aren’t listening,” he says. “Your children are listening whether they act like it or not.”

10 Tips to be a Better Listener

SOURCE:  

When people are upset, the words they use rarely convey the issues and needs at the heart of the problem.

When we listen for what is felt as well as said, we connect more deeply to our own needs and emotions, and to those of other people.

· Listen to the reasons the other person gives for being upset.

· Make sure you understand what the other person is telling you—from his or her point of view.

· Repeat the other person’s words, and ask if you have understood correctly.

· Ask if anything remains unspoken, giving the person time to think before answering.

· Resist the temptation to interject your own point of view until the other person has said everything he or she wants to say and feels that you have listened to and understood his or her message.

When listening to the other person’s point of view, the following responses are often helpful:

Encourage the other person to share his or her issues as fully as possible.

· “I want to understand what has upset you.”

· “I want to know what you are really hoping for.”

Clarify the real issues, rather than making assumptions. Ask questions that allow you to gain this information, and which let the other person know you are trying to understand.

· “Can you say more about that?”

· “Is that the way it usually happens?”

Restate what you have heard, so you are both able to see what has been understood so far it may be that the other person will then realize that additional information is needed.

· “It sounds like you weren’t expecting that to happen.”

Reflect feelings-be as clear as possible.

· “I can imagine how upsetting that must have been.”

Validate the concerns of the other person, even if a solution is elusive at this time. Expressing appreciation can be a very powerful message if it is conveyed with integrity and respect.

· “I really appreciate that we are talking about this issue.”

· “I am glad we are trying to figure this out.”

Relational Conflict: The Four Horsemen — The Antidotes

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa/The Gottman Institute

All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

You can download a free PDF version of the The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes here.

The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?

Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”

Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”

Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.

The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.

The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!

Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.

Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)

Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.

Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.

Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”

Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”

By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.

What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.

Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:

“Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”

“Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”

If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.

So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.

You’ve got the skills. Use them!

Now that you know what the Four Horsemen are and how to counteract them with their proven antidotes, you’ve got the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy way. As soon as you see criticism or contempt galloping in, remember their antidotes. Be vigilant. The more you can keep the Four Horsemen at bay, the more likely you are to have a stable and happy relationship.

You Can Help Someone Without Becoming Codependent

SOURCE:  Henry Cloud/John Townsend

Amy called Tina late one night needing a friend.

“He’s gone,” Amy said between sobs. “Dad passed an hour ago.”

Tina was heartbroken for her friend. Though offering condolences and prayers seemed appropriate, Tina wanted to do more for Amy. She couldn’t take away the pain Amy was experiencing, and she was busy with work and family obligations, yet she felt as though she needed to do more. This was one of her best friends.

Simply said, the way to comfort someone who is enduring a loss, going through a hard time or is recovering from addiction is to give them the support and structure they need to go through the process that is unavoidable.

Each of these instances requires a letting-go experience, a letting-go of defenses, control, the things that have been lost, emotions, niceties and the like. But to let go, someone has to be held up. The facilitator is the person who is the life support and the one who holds up the other person while they let go of their emotions and habits, and enter a very natural process. So, the facilitator’s job is to provide the comfort, safety and structure that helps allow that to happen.

Consider the following:

  • Use active listening and empathy. Give empathic statements that show that you hear and understand what the person is experiencing.
  • Be emotionally present with the person. Look them in the eye. Reach out and touch their arm. Show that you truly are with them.
  • Ask questions that require something other than yes or no answers, or factual responses. Instead, ask questions that allow them to talk: “What has this been like for you?” “I cannot imagine what you have experienced. Tell me how you have coped.” Open ended, process questions.
  • Watch for the ones who are too overwhelmed to process. Grief is good to express, unless the person is too overwhelmed to truly grieve. In that case, they need containment rather than to open up. If it is too much for them to express their grief, help them to feel safe and gain control. Tell them you will be there with them, and don’t try to get them more into what they are feeling at that time.
  • Don’t offer pat answers or platitudes.
  • Offer practical help that restores the structure of life. Do they need a ride somewhere? Do they need a meal? Do they need errands taken care of? Do they need help with insurance forms? These things are of great comfort and restore the structure of life.

Here’s something to always keep in mind: The biggest comfort you can give is the fact that you are there and you care. Don’t worry about having all the answers or solutions. Your presence and care is the biggest support you can offer. The biggest help is to give them a time and a place to talk. Do not try to sidestep the process that they feel, with all its different emotions, or try to make it tidy. The healing process has to make its own path.

Relationships/Marriage: The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

SOURCE:  Kyle Benson / The Gottman Institute

After studying more than 3,000 couples in his Love Lab over the last four decades, Dr. John Gottman has discovered that the most important issue in marriage is trust.

Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset?

Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?

Can I trust you to respect me?

Couples that trust each other understand that a good marriage doesn’t just happen on its own. It needs to be cultivated.

These couples express appreciation for each other. They brag about each other’s talents and achievements. They say “I love you” every day.

Even in the heat of conflict, they consider the other’s perspective. They are able to empathize with each other, even when they don’t agree, and they are there for each other during times of illness or stress.

They understand that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. As Neil Barringham says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”

Building trust

Trust is built in very small moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

One single moment is not that important, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually and very slowly.

When this happens, the story of your relationship begins to turn negative. You begin to focus on your partner’s flaws. You forget about their traits you admire and value.

Eventually you start making what researcher Caryl Rusbult calls “negative comparisons.” You start to compare your spouse to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.”

Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship, of trashing your partner instead of cherishing them, and building resentment rather than gratitude.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains this phenomenon in dating.

Building trust and commitment requires intentional effort. Here are fives ways to invest in your relationship.

Turn Towards Bids for Connection
Bids are the building blocks of lasting love. In one study of newlywed couples in Dr. Gottman’s lab, couples that stayed together turned towards each other 86% of the time, whereas couples that eventually divorced only did it 33% of the time. That’s a big difference.

When bids fail, as they inevitably do in all relationships, seek to repair. Remember that repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples.

Flip Your Internal Script
Negative thoughts cause you to miss 50% of your partner’s bids, according to research by Robinson and Price. This makes it difficult to build trust.

Learn to separate specific relationship problems from the overall view of your partner. Make an intentional effort to replace negative thoughts with compassion and empathy.

Ritualize Cherishing
The best way to keep yourself from making “negative comparisons” is to actively cherish your partner. Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about each other rather than thoughts about someone else.

Think about the things you appreciate about your partner and tell them. Thanks for being so adventurous with me. You’re such an amazing cook. You’re such a great dad.

Learn to Fight Smarter
Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and what they need, not what they don’t need. They are gentle and they give their partner a recipe to be successful with them.

Schedule a weekly State of the Union meeting to discuss areas of concern in your relationship.

Create We Time
It’s easy to find excuses for not dedicating time for your relationship. We’re too busy. We work a lot. We’re always with the kids.

Find time go on dates, ask each other open-ended questions, and continue to create rituals of connection that allow you to connect emotionally. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Choose each other, day after day.

This Is Why Your Kid’s Not Listening to You

SOURCE:  Stephanie Loomis Pappas /The Gottman Institute

I’m awake earlier than usual and hiding out in bed for a few precious minutes of reading time when a wail interrupts me mid-paragraph. My three-year-old opens my door and throws himself at the bed.

I reach out for a hug. “What’s the matter?”

He ignores me and screams louder.

“Why are you so sad?”

He screams louder and swipes at me.

“Well, I don’t want to spend time with someone who is screaming at me.” I get up and walk into my bathroom.

He follows, screams echoing off the tiles.

But I should really know better than to ask why my son is sad, because the book he just interrupted – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s timeless “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” – warned me off asking why when dealing with an upset child.

Kids’ feelings are real feelings

In the foundational chapter of their book, originally published in 1980 and more recently in a 30th Anniversary Edition, Faber and Mazlish demonstrate the many ways in which parents minimize or reject their children’s feelings: A child complains about being hot, and a parent responds by telling the kid to put on a winter jacket. A child whimpers about a paper cut, and the parent dismisses it as no big deal.

For Faber and Mazlish, these brushed-off feelings are an early breach of trust between parents and their children. The bedrock of Faber and Mazlish’s approach to parenting is acknowledging children’s feelings. Not dismissing. Not minimizing. Not jumping to explain, or blame, or problem-solve. Just acknowledging.

Faber and Mazlish offer four ways that parents can acknowledge their children’s feelings. Parents can simply look at their children and listen. They can offer short acknowledgments like “I see” or “Uh-huh.” They can identify feelings. Or they can give their children their “wishes in fantasy,” like “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could wear shorts in the winter?” or “I wish we could build a paper cut healing machine!”

Kids may not understand their feelings

Faber and Mazlish add a special caution against “why.” Although some kids can explain their feelings in the moment, many cannot. For those kids, asking why just makes things worse:
in addition to their original distress, they must now analyze the cause and come up with a reasonable explanation. Very often children don’t know why they feel as they do. At other times, they’re reluctant to tell you because they fear that, in the adult’s eyes, their reason won’t seem good enough. (“For that you’re crying?”)

What kids need, Faber and Mazlish argue, is for their feelings to be understood and respected, not questioned.

Imagine you get a call from someone you’ve known a long time, maybe a sibling or a dear friend. Just their tone of voice leads you to say things like, “You sound tired,” or “Oh no, you must not be feeling well,” or “You sound like you’re having a great day.”

But when talking to your child, who is in the room with you and offering plenty of clues as to how he’s feeling, you ask, “What’s the matter?” or “Why are you crying?” Even though we are trying to communicate empathy, these phrases make it seem as though we’re not really hearing our children.

Did I need to know why my son was sad in order to understand his feelings? I knew he was sad, but I didn’t acknowledge his feeling. Instead, I reflexively swooped in to solve the crying with whatever explanation fit his situation this time.

Maybe my son was crying because he was woken by the neighbors. Maybe he was crying because he’d had that nightmare with the turkey. Maybe he was crying because he was too hot or too cold. Maybe he was crying because that’s what kids do lots of the time. In reaching out for him, I was clearly trying to comfort. But did my “why” add to that? Did it matter why he was crying, or that he was seeking comfort from me?

“Why” sounds like an accusation

Once I started listening to myself, I realized that I often ask some version of “why?” in response to almost all of my child’s emotional outbursts. What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Why do you feel sad? Why are you laughing?

In our worst moments, “why” can become a parent’s accusation. Why didn’t you tell me you needed help with your homework? Why did you break all your pencils? Why didn’t you remember to take the dog out? Why did you do that to your little sister?

These kinds of why questions, Faber and Mazlish argue, put children in an impossible position. They either identify as inadequate or start getting defensive, placing blame on others. Neither position helps children solve their problems.

Turning off “why”

After reading Faber and Mazlish’s suggestion to avoid asking why, I resolve to start acknowledging my son’s feelings. My next chance comes later that morning when he runs into the kitchen and yells, “It’s raining!” before collapsing into sobs.

“Why are you sad it’s –” I catch myself and switch course. “You’re sad it’s raining.”

“Yes.”

“Sometimes the noise of rain can be scary.”

“Yes.”

My son dives in for a hug and asks if we can read a book. I pick Mo Willems’ “Are You Ready to Play Outside”, which seems appropriate given my son’s mood about the weather.

Turning “why” on ourselves

Faber and Mazlish make a compelling case for not asking “why” when our kids are wrestling with negative emotions. Although their focus is on children, their book also suggests even more important “why” questions:

Why are parents so quick to dismiss or minimize their children’s feelings? Why are we made so angry or uncomfortable by our children’s displays of negative emotion?

It’s incredibly difficult to consider the reasoning behind our own parenting decisions. People spend years in therapy answering that question. But it’s likely true that many of us are wound up in our hopes and dreams for our children. We want them to be happy, fulfilled, and successful. Their negative emotions seem like evidence that they are not thriving.

If we don’t want our children to crumple at the slightest provocation, to in fact flourish despite the difficult times, we need to help them identify and address their emotions.

Family Systems Change

SOURCE:  Prepare/Enrich

I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.

I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.

The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.

Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.

While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.

Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”

Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.

We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:

  • Hear them out.  Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
  • Give it time.  Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
  • Encourage openness.  Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
  • Establish new bonds.  Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.

 




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