Listening is the Place to Start

By: Dr. Neil Stafford Posted On Mar 26, 2017

One of the most frequent questions I am asked when working with families is, "how do I get the kid to listen?" In fact, I ask the same question of myself and my wife about our kids. How do we get them to listen to us? I think what we are really asking is how do we get them to do what we tell them to do? We just want to keep them safe. We want to teach them what's best. We want them to kind, compassionate, smart, motivated, and successful children and adults. What we are telling them will get them there. So, why don't they listen to us?

My answer for myself and most everyone else is we start by listening to them. I am a firm believer in the philosophy of Ross Greene (you can find his material at His belief is "all children do well if they can." Children want to be happy. They want us to be happy. The reason we are frustrated with them does not start with them not following our directions. It starts with a challenge the child experiences which makes it difficult for them to follow the advice or directions we are giving them. It is rare the child simply refuses to listen because they just want to refuse. Many times when we think they are being stubborn it is because they are frustrated with us for some reason. There is a reason, rational or irrational, for why they are choosing to do what they are doing. 

How do we change this? We start by listening to the child. What are they thinking? Why are they choosing the path they are on at the moment. There is a reason. It may not be one we've thought of, or that makes sense to us. That doesn't matter. What matters is it's important to the child. If we take it seriously, and allow them to talk about what they are feeling and thinking without our judgement we may find the keys to connecting with them.

 Listen first to understand and connect. Then they will be open to you. 

TAGS: Mindfulness, Parenting, Childhood Behavior Problems
About the Author
Dr. Stafford is a clinical psychologist with 11 years experience. His primary experience is with children and families in private practice, and 10 years in the Avondale Elementary School District. Dr. Stafford has earned certification in school psychology, and is the training director for an internship program for school psychologist. Beyond these activities, Dr. Stafford works with adults in his private practice on a broad range of issues including depression and anxiety. He also has interests in the integration of faith and psychology as well as the development of the individual through interpersonal neurobiology.

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