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When kids ask for help, are they complaining? You already know the answer.

I was picking up Illya after school. Before he hopped on his bike, he started whining:

– Mommy, my belly has been hurting all day long…. (and another hundred details)

– Do you want me to do something about it to make you feel better or do you just want to talk about it?

– Just saying. I feel better already.

We are very much in the habit of rushing to help kids and to try solve their problems immediately. Try put yourself in their shoes. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us, but not necessarily do something beyond that. Instead of receiving advice or hearing a story about others’ pain, or even being asked questions that cause an even greater sense of guilt or frustration, it is important to have the chance to speak more about our inner troubles.

It is fairly typical for parents to react by denying a child’s feelings. “No, you are not cold”. “You can’t possibly be hungry – you just ate!”.

Children are caught in this relationship. Quite predictably, they respond with tears or “bad” behavior. Just imagine this situation: your husband says that he feels tired and sleepy. And you react by saying, “No, it can’t be so – you slept all night long!” You see how that isn’t fair?

Most of us have grown up with such feelings of non-acceptance and denial. So we need to learn the language of empathy from the very outset and patiently practice it with our own kids.

Any techniques – whether they involve “active listening”, “nonviolent communication” or others – will not work until you really hold such feelings in yourself and mean it. When you really listen to your child, you make him/her feel visible and important. Try to resist the temptation to solve everything. You don’t even need to agree with your kids, but do try to accept the way your child is feeling.

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