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What is it?

I read experts on shame, overparenting, under parenting, resiliency, and self esteem. I study neuroscience and specialists in child development. I've personally worked with therapists to understand anxiety and depression. And I've watched myself get it right and wrong with my own children. And here's the bottom line. Regardless of the specialization or approach, everything comes back to one thing: connection. And the easiest, absolute easiest, way to start building that connection is by listening. It sounds boring and cliche...but it's the truth.

Psychologist and meditation guru Tara Brach says training ourselves to really listen takes 10,000 plus hours! We weren't all raised with parents who practiced listening and it's hard to see it in our fast-paced, selfie focused society, so it can actually feel awkward and unnatural at first.

How to Address It?

Practice makes perfect. Start with easy hacks. My favorite one when I want to listen but can't get to full on empathy is Mirroring. Reflect back on what you heard your child say. This communicates that you have heard, you are interested, and you care about them; plus it will keep them talking (and you listening). You're cynical? Trust me: you're not the first.

Three Caveats.

  • You have to at least be a little bit interested; a completely robotic, monotone parroting of what you are hearing will in fact have the opposite effect.

  • Try and bite your tongue after you 'mirror'. Let them talk and then mirror again.

  • Don't worry if you don't agree - that comes after. Read Also: Accepting is not Agreeing

Your Script in Action

Child: I hate online learning - it's too hard and I can't do well on tests.

  • Instead of: Well, we're just going to have to study a bit harder - there's nothing we can do about having to do virtual learning.

  • Mirror: Huh, sounds like you're having a hard time with tests because of the online learning.

Child: Lucy [younger sister] is so annoying and she just messes everything up.

  • Instead of: She's your sister and we don't talk that way about our siblings.

  • Mirror: Huh, sounds like your feeling like Lucy is always getting in your way.

Child: Can't five of us just have a sleepover; we'll be careful.

  • Instead of: There is no way I'm having 5 10 year old boys running around my house!

  • Mirror: You want to have five friends sleepover and I'm hearing you say that you think you can be careful enough.

(You may still have to say no to the sleepover. Listen first. Read Also: Connect Before Correct


Look for one opportunity today to try mirroring. Just one. And notice how it makes YOU feel or notice how your child enjoyed the conversation. According to Dr. Justin Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, to rewire any habit we have to give our brains what he calls the “Bigger Better Offer” or “B.B.O.” If mirroring and listening make you feel good, your brain will want to wire in that habit. Start today.

Small steps lead to big impact. Download a chapter from my book, The MicroStep Method™ for the Overwhelmed Parent for free.


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