Dr. Thomas Phelan, author of the best-selling, awarding winning 1-2-3 Magic Parenting Program, is an internationally renowned expert and lecturer on parenting and Attention Deficit Disorder. A registered PhD clinical psychologist, he appears frequently on radio and television and has been engaged in private practice since 1972.
Dr. Phelan received his doctorate from Loyola University in Chicago in 1970. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Illinois Psychological Association. The father of an ADD child, he has also served on the boards of directors for ADDA and CHADD, two national organizations for parents of children with ADD.
Read an excerpt of Dr Thomas Phelan’s chapter of “A Loving Family” here:
Active listening is one of our big relationship-building tactics and it’s a very positive way of interacting with your child and in fact anyone. A great place to use it is when a child is upset about something. The only time you wouldn’t do this is if your child is upset with your discipline. For example if it’s time to get ready for bed and your child gets mad about it, to me this is not a time for active listening other to say, “I understand it’s frustrating for you, but it’s still time for bed”. When they’re mad at you and it’s not a routine discipline thing, listen to them. Say your child comes home from school yelling, “My music teacher is an idiot!” Some parents would say, “That’s not a nice way to talk about your music teacher”, but this is not what you want to do. The kid’s upset or angry, ask them, “What happened?” or, “What went on during the day?” Then listen. Chances are the dog died or their friend moved to another state or they’re mad about something or they’re feeling sad, so that’s the time for active listening. Your goal when you’re actively listening is to try and understand what the child is saying to you, not whether or not you agree with it. You’re like a detective trying to decipher what is their mental map right now, what’s happening inside their mind and try and piece it together. Your goal is to try and understand what they’re saying and how they’re feeling.
Aim to understand
The second goal is to let them know that you understand. To do this, ask sympathetic questions. Such questions help you understand, and they also help your child to know that you understand. It’s a very nice feeling. I’m sure you know what it’s like when somebody listens to you sympathetically and it can be very pleasant especially when you’re upset. Be careful to watch your own emotions when your kid says to you, “This family of ours is so boring”. They’re a little frustrated with you right there, so rather than saying, “Well that’s too bad” or “You’re not so exciting yourself” it would be more helpful to ask, “I’ve never heard you talk this way before, what’s on your mind?” Even if you do take it personally, keep that to yourself while you listen to what they have to say. Your goal is to listen first. This is a great communication strategy in general by the way.
Lots of people don’t have good active listening skills. In the mental health profession your primary skill is to be a good listener, but it’s not something that most of us are trained to do. It’s a valuable skill for life however, and especially in parenting. It takes a lot of effort to listen and try to hear what a person is saying, but work on it. It can be very satisfying when you do it correctly and even making the effort puts you and your child in a more receptive frame of mind. Keep in mind though the time to practice active listening is when your child is experiencing a unique problem rather than during limit setting, that is to say when they’re being disciplined by you. Listening and discussing the topic at that time would be unhelpful.
A nice routine
Having routines in place for things that happen everyday can really reduce fuss because everyone is on the same page. Set up and stick to a basic bedtime routine for the period before sleeping. A really nice routine (that many parents do) is to have dinner, have a bath, brush your child’s teeth, put on their pajamas, have a trip to the bathroom, read a story or two, and give their back a rub. A nice routine that you do every night makes bedtime a lot easier. If you have an age gap of three or four years it can mean the younger one needs to do all this earlier, which makes bedtime a long process and requires both parents to be involved every night. As they get older the age gap tends to close so eventually you can read to them together, which is a relief. I think bedtime should be pretty regular. You can also set up a good routine for the morning, another busy time in a families’ day especially once the kids are going to daycare or school.
Children absorb what is around them
Role modeling is important, you learn a lot by watching other people. We underestimate the effect movies have on adults and children with the social modeling that goes on in popular culture. It has to do with the expression of anger and it has to do with the expression of sex. The way parents handle conflicts with each other, with people they know in their life and what they see through various media, kids see that and they naturally have the tendency to imitate what they see.
Older siblings teach younger ones how to behave as well as the parents, simply through who they are and what they do. When role modeling works in a positive way in your family, you can actually encourage it to happen more often. You can say, “I’m feel really happy seeing you help set the table, I’ve noticed your little brother really looks up to you when you do that”. This use of positive reinforcement, which I’ll go into more detail about, helps the older child feel proud of themselves and to feel good. It can also inspire a little bit of positive feeling towards the younger sibling as well.
Like to read more of Dr Thomas Phelan’s chapter? Go on the waiting list for your copy of “A Loving Family” here.
A sample from Thomas Phelan’s interview with the author is coming soon!