Kids can sometimes surprise you with the comments they make. Before jumping in with advice or discipline, sometimes it’s more important to listen first.

For starters, get yourself in the proper frame of mind: “I’m going to hear this kid out—even if it kills me—and find out exactly what he thinks and feels about what’s going on.” Next, several different things can be done. These include openers, nonjudgmental questions, reflecting feelings and perception checks.

OPENERS: Start with what are called “openers”—brief comments or questions designed to elicit further information from your child. These comments may appear too passive, but remember that active listening must precede any problem‐solving discussion. If discipline or other action is necessary, worry about that after you’ve gotten the facts. Openers can be simple: “Oh?” or “Wow!” for example. Anything is OK as long as it communicates that you are ready and willing to listen sympathetically, including nonverbal behavior, such as sitting down next to the youngster or putting down the paper to look at him.

NONJUDGMENTAL QUESTIONS: Following openers, more questions are often necessary. To be effective, these must not be loaded or judgmental. “What do you think made you do that?” or “Sounds like this is really bothering you.” NOT “What on earth were you thinking!” or “What’s your problem today?” Of course your tone of voice is critical here.

REFLECTING FEELINGS: If you’re going to tell someone that you think you understand him, try to let him know that you can imagine how he must have felt under the circumstances. Something like: “Boy, I haven’t seen you this mad in a while!” or “That must have been very hard for you.” Reflecting feelings lets the child know that whatever he is feeling is OK (it’s what he sometimes does about it that can be right or wrong). This response reinforces self‐esteem and also helps diffuse the negative feelings so they are not acted out somewhere else.

PERCEPTION CHECKS: From time to time, it is helpful to check out whether you are really getting a good idea of what your child is saying. This kind of comment not only lets you know whether you’re understanding him correctly, it also has a second purpose: it tells the child that you are really listening and trying to see the world for a moment through his eyes. Active listening is an attitude. Your attitude, not your child’s. It’s the attitude of sincerely trying to figure out what someone else is thinking even if you don’t agree. It’s also a great self‐esteem builder and you’ll find if you listen well you can learn a lot about what your children think about life!