Last summer I started seeing a new book on the Parenting Shelves at my bookstore. I was curious, but with so many great authors out there, I didn’t immediately pick it up. When I did, I was delighted to discover a powerful new way of communicating with kids that works when they are upset, or when we just want to connect more deeply.
The subtitle to Jennifer Kolari’s Connected Parenting is Transform Your Challenging Child and Build Loving Bonds for Life . The book is full of great ideas that not only to help parents connect with their kids, but also to set appropriate limits and even work on co-parenting issues. For this article, I’m going to focus on the powerful technique that she teaches for connecting with our kids, that works with all ages, and in virtually all situations.
One of the biggest challenges for parents is often how to diffuse situations where their kids are upset and emotional. Empathetic listening is a good start, but as kids get older, they often don’t appreciate words like, "It looks like you are very frustrated right now." I’ve quit using empathetic listening when my daughter is upset because at 10, she knows all of those feeling words. She doesn’t react well and I suspect that she finds it condescending. Kolari’s technique goes beyond empathetic listening, and offers a great way to achieve the same desired outcome, to communicate our empathy.
She calls her listening technique mirroring. Basically, when we mirror our child, we let him or her know through our expression, and words, that we get what they are going through. Unlike empathetic listening, we don’t project what the emotion is that our child may be feeling. Instead, we recount the details that lead to the feeling, such as, "You wanted to hang out with Kali and she already had plans. Not only that, she has plans with Sarah, who is also your friend. You thought they would include you, but they didn’t." Such a recap of what you see helps your child to feel understood and to recognize that you appreciate her feelings.
Like so many people, I learn through sharing new ideas in my writing and teaching. As I write this, I am excited to find an opportunity to start using this technique. I plan to be gentle on myself, and to be low key when I use this technique. Kolari emphasizes not to make too big a deal out of what you are saying or it will come off as a technique, and quite possibly be rejected. She suggests that you try mirroring a spouse or friend while you practice the technique.
I encourage you to pick up her book so that you can learn more about mirroring. Also, you will see how she then goes on to deal with any problems you have with your child. She also has specific suggestions around homework, bedtime and the many other trying circumstances that we face as parents. Kolari’s years as a social worker dealing with parents and kids, gives her a wealth of knowledge which she shares in her easy-to-read, enjoyable book.
As with all aspects of parenting, be gentle with yourself as you learn to parent the way you want to parent, whether it is through Kolari’s mirroring technique, or any other parenting method. Let me know what your experiences are with listening styles. If you’ve read Connected Parenting by Jennifer Kolari, I’d love to hear your comments on the book!