Listening shows children we love them. As parents, we listen to our kids by paying attention to the words they are saying and by repeating back to them what we’ve heard them say. In Imago Therapy, this is called “mirroring.” Parents do this by saying, “What I heard you say was…” Parents can also help by remarking on what the child has said that makes sense to them. Listening, repeating, and understanding helps kids feel valued by their parents. There are times this is all that’s needed to help your child cope with something challenging.
As a parent myself, I have witnessed firsthand how listening and mirroring has helped my child. Once on vacation, my daughter wanted us to buy her a hermit crab after her friend got one. My first thought was, “Oh no, not another pet to clean up after.” I held that thought inside of me and said to my daughter and husband, “Let’s talk together about it tomorrow.” On our drive out of town, we took turns talking. My husband began by saying his thoughts. Then my daughter stated why she wanted a hermit crab: “We could buy it colored rocks and all we’d have to do is feed it. I REALLY, REALLY want one.” I mirrored her by saying, “I know you REALLY, REALLY want a hermit crab. I heard you say we could buy it colored rocks and all we would have to do is give it food. Did I get it?” She responded “Yes.” She added more and I mirrored that too. When it was my turn I told her that I understood her wish because I liked having a hermit crab as a pet when I was a child. Soon, we were onto a different subject. A few days passed. My husband and I realized that she hadn’t mentioned the hermit crab again. We were amazed because she had been so adamant! We were further amazed when she saw the friend with the hermit crab again and made no further mention of her wish for one as a pet.
What I realized was this: my daughter had felt heard and understood. And that was enough. By choosing not to say anything at first, I gave her the “space” to fully tell us how she saw things. She felt loved by us in this way. The content of her wish (wanting the hermit crab) wasn’t nearly as important as the process of being listened to. All children want their parents’ love and attention more than they want any material thing. Just as you do with your spouse, give your child the gift of being truly heard.
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