The kind of listening Gottman proposes
is called reflective listening. This is a nonjudgmental technique
that reflects a child's emotion back to him or her. It sounds like
Child: Me! Me! T-Rex!
Mom: You want to play
with the dinosaur and you're mad that brother isn't sharing.
Child: (crying) No! I
don't want to get in the car! It's not time to go!
Dad: You were having a
lot of fun at Grandma's house and now you're sad that it's time to
What if your child is obviously upset and you don't know what's
wrong? Encourage your child to share what she is feeling. For
example, "I see tears. What's wrong?" Or, "I hear that you're really
upset. Can you tell me how you're feeling right now?"
Gottman cautions parents to use a gentle and understanding tone
of voice -- even if your child has completely lost control of
himself. Feeling understood by a parent can be a tremendously
soothing influence. Many children begin to calm down when they
realize that a parent is trying to understand their position.
He also cautions not to dismiss a child's feeling as silly or
unimportant (for example, "I can't believe you're crying over a
nickel!"). Honor the child's emotion by taking it seriously.
This material has been adapted from
"What Am I
Feeling?" by John Gottman, Ph.D.
Copyright Parenting Press,
Republished by permission.