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Mirror Your Child’s Feelings


Schonbuch-Rabbi-Daniel

One of the most important skills good listeners have is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others or to empathize with the speaker by attempting to understand his or her thoughts and feelings. As a parent, try to mirror your teenagers’ feelings by repeating them. You might reflect a teenager’s feelings by commenting, “It sounds as if you’re angry at your math teacher.” Restating or rephrasing what teenagers have said is useful when they are experiencing powerful emotions they may not be fully aware of.

A common battle parents have with their teenagers is about how much time they spend watching videos or playing computer games. Let’s look at two different modes of communication. In the first conversation, the parent is unable to deal with the inner needs of the child.

Mom: Sam, are you watching those ridiculous videos again? It’s time to turn off the TV and do your homework!

Sam: Mom, I need to watch my videos! All my friends watch this many videos in their homes!

Mom: I don’t care. You have to get your life together and stop wasting time!

Sam: Yes! Then I’ll be the big loser who doesn’t know what everyone else is talking about!

Mom: So what? I don’t care what other kids talk about. You have to take responsibility for your own actions.

Sam: I don’t care what you want. I have got to watch them.

Mom: That’s it. I’m taking the video machine away!

In the following conversation, Sam’s mother has learned the skills needed to be a good active listener and mirror her son’s feelings while also helping him change the type of videos he watches.

Mom: Sam, I’m concerned about how many videos you have been watching lately. I think we need to set up some kind of schedule to make sure you are doing your homework and participating in other activities.

Sam: Mom, I need to watch my videos! All my friends watch this many videos in their homes!

Mom: You’ll feel like you’re missing out on something if you don’t watch all the videos your friends watch.

Sam: Yes! Then I’ll be the big loser who doesn’t know what everyone else is talking about!

Mom: If you don’t know what your friends are talking about, you’re afraid you’ll look dumb and they’ll make fun of you.

Sam: Exactly, Mom! You see why I just have to watch all these videos.

Mom: Hmm, I can see that videos are important to you. Why don’t we talk more about what specific videos you feel you need to watch and see if we can’t come up with a compromise?

Through active listening, this parent was able to avoid an argument with her son while at the same time she negotiated with him about watching fewer videos. Practicing this kind of communication helps build a more caring relationship, one that will enable more positive interactions and dialogue on many important matters.

Empathize with Your Teenager

Finally, empathizing with your teenager may be the greatest emotional gift you can share with him or her. To empathize, parents need to listen to their children’s feelings, thoughts, and desires. Here is a good example of a parent using empathy to deepen his relationship with his teenager.

Andrea: Rachel’s Grandma died yesterday.

Dad: I’m sure Rachel is really sad that she lost her Grandma.

Andrea: She was always so nice when we went to visit her.

Dad: Your visits meant so much to her.

Andrea: I can’t believe she died.

Dad: You really enjoyed knowing her.

Andrea: I loved her so much. What will I do without her?

Dad: You loved her so much.

Andrea: When Moshiach comes, we will see her again. Right, Dad?

Dad: For sure. I love you.

Here are some examples of parents who are unaware of the rules of Relationship Theory contrasted with parents who are actively listening. Read carefully as the actively listening parent keeps the key principles in mind and builds a closer relationship with the teenager.

Rebecca Is Angry

In this conversation, Rebecca’s mother is unaware of the techniques of active listening.

Rebecca: My teacher says that she’s canceling our school trip because our class isn’t behaving well.

Mom: I guess it’s time to start behaving better.

Rebecca: Yeah, just because some kids don’t behave, we all have to get punished!

Mom: Maybe you do.

Rebecca: I can’t believe my teacher. She is really an idiot.

Mom: Don’t talk like that about your teacher.

Rebecca: Why do we all have to suffer because of a few stupid girls?

Mom: Because you probably all behave badly.

Rebecca: Oh, I hate school.

In this example, Rebecca’s mother uses active listening techniques.

Rebecca: My teacher says that she’s canceling our school trip because our class isn’t behaving well.

Mom: That must make you really disappointed. I know you were looking forward to it.

Rebecca: Yeah, just because some kids don’t behave, we all have to get punished!

Mom: Yeah, I see.

Rebecca: I can’t believe my teacher. She is really an idiot.

Mom: Your teacher is making you feel upset.

Rebecca: Yeah, why do we all have to suffer because of a few stupid girls?

Mom: You feel you’re suffering because of some of the girls.

Rebecca: That’s right.

Notice how the active listening parent is allowing her child to speak about her feelings and not trying to solve her problems. By doing so, she is building trust and communicating to Rebecca that she can always approach her mother when she is upset.

Steven Gets Punched

Here, Steven’s mother is not using active listening techniques.

Steven: Chaim punched me today during lunchtime.

Mom: What a jerk that kid is!

Steven: Yeah, he’s an idiot.

Mom: You better believe it.

Steven: I’m going to kill him tomorrow!

Mom: Tell him never to touch you again.

Steven: I’m first going to tell the Rebbe.

Mom: Tell him how bad that kid is and that he should be punished.

Using active listening produces an entirely different conversation.

Steven: Chaim punched me today during lunchtime.

Mom: Chaim punched you.

Steven: Yeah, he’s an idiot.

Mom: I see.

Steven: I’m going to kill him tomorrow!

Mom: Getting punched really hurt you.

Steven: Yeah, I’m going to tell the Rebbe.

Mom: I hear how much you want Chaim to stop punching you.

Steven: That’s right.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in marriage counseling and teens at risk. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For an appointment call 646-428-4723.

About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, treating Anxiety and Depression, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Brooklyn. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com, email rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com or call 646-428-4723.


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