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Social Skills and Problem Solving: Parents, Are You Listening?

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What do we adults do when our friends call us with problems in their lives? We listen. We sympathize. We support. We validate their feelings. Maybe, just maybe, we carefully step in with a little advice.

When your kids have problems, do you abandon those wonderful listening skills and jump in to tell them how to fix their problems or analyze their handling of a situation? Yes, you have life experience. Yes, you have wisdom. Yes, you can probably save your child some grief if only he ‘listened to you’.
Most likely you cannot fix their problems anyway, or they may just tune you out, and most of all, they miss a chance to learn a life management skill.

If you gave your kids what you give your friends when they need a listener, chances are better that you will get what every parent craves: an inside view of what is going on in the mind of their child.
So give yourself a break. Just listen. Give your kids what you would give your best friend. Here are five tips to help you really listen to your kids.

1. Listen without interruption. That says “What you feel matters to me.”

2. Accept their feelings no matter how absurd, misguided, or naive they seems to you. Of course you want to guide your children to have sound values but where possible, let them have experience in ‘figuring it out’ themselves.

3. If you feel your child is stuck and it is important that you try to help, ask permission to enter the subject: “Do you want me to tell you what I think?” or “Can I make a suggestion?” And make it a couple of good quick, to-the-point nuggets, and pause. As your child trusts that you will allow him to do his own problem solving, he will be more receptive and even interested in your views.

4. Listen for the feelings behind the words. It helps kids to feel understood. As you hear your child’s words, ask yourself “What is my child feeling about this matter?” Frustrated? Proud? Confused?

5. Use a reflective listening formula: “You feel __________because_________.”
. After you hear your child’s words, you mirror back words that you believe describe how she feels. You feel let down because Lori did not call you when she said she would.” Do not presume to know your child’s feelings. If you are not sure, say, in a questioning tone: “Let me see if I have this right. You feel angry because you did not make it on time to get to play in the game.” This one is particularly helpful for practicing feelings identification with kids and adults who have Autism or Asperger Syndrome.

Special tip for success: In the beginning, your child may find this new way of communicating strange and perhaps not trustworthy. Do not force it, be patient, be consistent with your listening skills, giving your child time to figure it out, relax and trust in it.

Ellen Mossman-Glazer M.Ed. is a Life Skills Coach and Behavioral Specialist, specializing in Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, ADHD, and learning difficulties. Over her 20 years in special education classrooms and treatment settings, Ellen has seen the struggle that children and adults have when they feel they don’t fit in. She now works in private practice by phone, teleconference groups and email, helping parents, educators, caregivers and their challenging loved ones, to find their own specific steps and tools to thrive. Ellen is the author of two on line e-zines, Emotion Matters: Tools and Tips for Working with Feelings and Social Skills: The Micro Steps. Subscribe for free and see more about Ellen at
You can take a free mini assessment which Ellen will reply to with your first action step.

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  • Posted On January 11, 2007
  • Published articles 283513

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