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Episode 69

Reflective Listening:
a vital skill kids need
in the age of social media

March 6, 2023

[Kyle]: Well, in today's podcasts we're gonna talk about listening. Don't you like being listened to? Who doesn't like that? We're going to talk about why that's important for your kids and such a necessary skill to give them before they leave your house.


[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 69 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we're going to delve into the subject of reflective listening and the power that can have in your relationship with your kid. This is a really important one through all ages of kids, you know? But specifically, teenagers.

[Kyle]: Teenagers really, really need this, you know?

[Sara]: Yes, yeah. It keeps your relationship; it helps you guys stay connected through those years where lots of things are changing.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, we want to dive right into, but I do want to send out a quick message to say: hey, jump on, visit us at our Facebook page, The Art of Raising Humans Facebook page, Instagram, I think we've even got a TikTok or something like that as well. We're doing reels and other types of ways to help you visually, you know, also through video be able to understand some of these skills better. So, each time we have a podcast, we double up and accentuate some of those topics on those social media sites. So, we'd love to have you join us. If you haven't already, please share this podcast, help equip more parents in 2023 to become parents that are moving away from fear and shame and really, raising self-controlled kids that are self-disciplined.

[Kyle]: So, we really would love your support by commenting, sending us feedback or giving five-star ratings. All that kinds of stuff really helps the podcast be seen, help more families, okay? Great. You want to dive into it?

[Kyle]: So, let me ask you this, is somebody who's really good at listening-- Maybe you can’t answer this, but why is listening so hard? Because you're good at it, it doesn't seem hard to you.

[Sara]: No. You can intentionally do something, even-- Okay. So, why is listening hard? I think because our minds are busy with us and that's not even just how humans are, right? We're thinking about ourselves.

[Sara]: And how we're going to survive this moment or do this thing or whatever it might be and so, sometimes it's hard to kind of hush those voices, that internal buzz going on and really tune into the other person.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. So, and I think fear also when it comes in there, fear, stress, sends off like, an alarm. So, I think [Unintelligible] listening is hard, because it's almost like an alarm system in a house, just *beep, beep, beep, beep*. You're like “oh no! Big emotions! Oh no! Conflict! Oh no! You know, disappointments!”, all these things that we don't actually like. We don't like these. I'm not like “oh, I hope my kid's disappointed today, I hope they're really upset”. All these things go off and they're like “you know what? I've got my own stuff! You know? Just make it stop!”, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, or you just want to feel better, so you're just wanting to quiet that down as quickly as possible and get them back to being happy, but--

[Kyle]: I think it's funny that was your thing, like you just want them to feel better. I just want them to stop, I just like “come on! What's up with these big feelings!? Can we just make them go away? You know?”.

[Sara]: It’s so much more fun to everyone to feel good.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, you want everyone to kind of feel good. I think a lot of parents that's a big thing.

[Kyle]: I don't know how many times-- This is a hole there, I'm not going to go on this tangent, but I know in our culture we're obsessed with wanting our kids to be happy. I don't think that's healthy at all, like being happy is just a momentary feeling. Like you can't--

[Kyle]: And there's nothing you can do to make that happen; you know? I know parents if you're listening, you've tried and sometimes the kid just still isn't happy. So, I would encourage you to like, shift that goal. The goal is not to raise kids that are happy, is to help kids-- Raise kids who actually are self-aware and can regulate their emotions and can actually make choices and feel empowered to impact their life, you know? So I actually raise a kid who's content, a kid who, you know, feels some sense of satisfaction with their life rather than just happy, because sad is good too and so are these other ones, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's not today's podcast.

[Kyle]: It's not, it's a whole another one.

[Sara]: Chasing happiness is not a great motto for life.

[Kyle]: Yes, but I would say their emotions tend to trigger our emotions and that's why it becomes hard to listen, you know?

[Sara]: Definitely, yeah. When those triggers and those triggers can go back to our own childhood. Sometimes we're not even aware we've been triggered and something's just all of a sudden, going off inside of us and it may be-- It could be hours or days before we go “huh, you know? I think-- I think I had that reaction; I think I felt so strongly about that”.

[Sara]: And so, when they do something, it does-- We can't help it, our brain goes “child doing such and such behavior or this emotion” and it pulls that file from your childhood, you know?

[Sara]: And so, it goes “oh, pulling everything that relates to anger or outbursts or sadness or--”, you know, when it starts filing through that and inserting what it thinks it should insert into that moment.

[Kyle]: Yeah. I'm also thinking, I think another reason why listening is so difficult, is because we live in a really noisy society, you know? Like listening takes time.

[Kyle]: I've got to be patient, you know? It's easier to not even listen to ourselves, you know? To not even listen to what's happening. It's easier just to sh-- I don't know. There's a lot of families we've helped to, every night they go to sleep with the TVs on, you know? Because they know if they turn that off, the silence, you know? Even listening it's just too much, they don't want it. So, there's constant noise, there’s--

[Sara]: Well, you have to-do lists and phones beeping and you have a lot-- We have a lot coming at us right now.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and a lot of ways to not listen, you know? A lot of ways to just be distracted.

[Kyle]: And I think if kids aren't taught this skill, then they believe when emotions get big, the idea is to just distract themselves, just move towards the video game or move towards TikTok or move towards something else that keeps me from listening to that voice inside of me or a lot of times, maybe that voice that we've heard is really negative and it's really-- So, I don't want to listen to that.

[Kyle]: So, it's better to just do something else so I don't have to listen to that.

[Kyle]: And then the other one I was thinking that-- I think, I don't know. I don't think you fall into this, but I think a lot of dads can and I know there are moms; it's kind of a stereotypical statement. But that a lot of dads when big emotions happen, rather than listening, we feel like we've got to balance it with logic, you know? We gotta like “oh, they're being unreasonable, so I don't need to give that time, they need me to balance it with a reason yeah and logic”.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. That's our great attempt to make it better too. You know, you can see what happened and you're thinking “that's not really that big of a deal”.

[Sara]: Their reaction does not match the situation in your world, right? From my perspective that, you know, something being wrong with-- You know, a little tiny thing, their sticker ripped or they can't find that shirt they really wanted to wear today.

[Sara]: Or whatever it might be and then, it's just an hour of all out, you know, emotion and everything and in your world, you think “just pick a different shirt or just go and--”. So, we want to insert that logic into it like “oh, they're just missing the logic. If I supply them with the logic, they'll go suddenly ‘oh, you're right, dad, that shirt wasn't very important. Let me go--’”, but it doesn't work that way.

[Kyle]: It doesn't work that way, yeah, because they need to be heard, right? They need to know you hear them; you know?

[Kyle]: And that's actually how emotion eventually actually moves on. Is once it's been felt and heard and it feels like it's understood, then the emotion now can shift.

[Sara]: Yeah. We're actually designed to have emotion come, right? Where brains have emotion, it's part of who we are and how we're made. It's not something that we shouldn't have. The ultimate human doesn't have emotion, only has logic. We're designed to include both of those things and it should be, just like you said, the emotion comes and the emotion is processed and the emotion goes and even in happiness, even in joy, you know? You get a present and it would be strange if you were just through the roof, excited, smiling, giggling for days, right?

[Sara]: You typically are-- You're happy and you enjoy it, and then you still feel happiness, but that kind of subsides and that is the normal flow of emotion. Sadness, anger, frustration, any of these emotions, worry, can go through this arc.

[Sara]: If they're-- You know, we process them and they're designed to do that.

[Kyle]: They are, okay. So, listening is difficult. So, we want to start with that we understand it's hard and it takes a lot of intention to really listen to somebody. But everybody listening to this podcast loves to be listened to, you know’ Everybody wants to be heard, everybody wants to know somebody's out there who does hear them, you know? Like we are actually not designed to be alone and to be by ourselves. Even though at times it might feel good to pull away from all the noise and be alone, that that would be good, but inevitably, we are social creatures who want to be listened to and want to be heard and that's actually how we process things with each other, you know?

[Kyle]: So, this is a very vital skill and I'm emphasizing the vital skill I think in all societies forever, but specifically now, where you see so many kids struggling with this. Struggling with the ability to listen to each other, to listen to themselves, you know? So, I want to really emphasize this skill of reflective listening, because it's something you want the kids from the youngest you can start doing it, that-- You know, time they're born, you know? You can start showing them how to reflect upon “what is going on inside of you and what does it say to you” and I mean, one of my funniest things to do with teenagers especially, is when you're helping them. They're all confused about what's going on in their life and they're needing some answers and when they realize the answers are actually within them, you know?

[Kyle]: If they would just take a moment and almost like I'm-- You can't see me because we're not on video, but I'm opening my hand. “I just encourage you to open your hand and just put that story about that event in your hand and let's just look at it from all sides. Let's just be curious about what meaning are you drawing from this thing. You aren't motivated to do your schoolwork, what meaning are you--? You're lazy? You know, you're going to be unsuccessful the rest of your life? Are these the stories you're telling yourself or are you just saying that right now you don't feel challenged by that class? Or you don't really have a good relationship with that teacher? Or maybe this time in your life, you find social stuff more exciting and more engaging, you know?”

[Kyle]: And so, that could be a story. I don't know if that's true or not, but throwing it out to the kid to go “oh, there's multiple ways to understand this thing that's going on in me? There isn't just the one my parents told me it was or just the one that negative voice told me it was? There's other ways to see it?”.

[Kyle]: It's a really important skill to have, because in our society they're not being taught to reflect and go “huh, I wonder what's going on there” or “I wonder how come I reacted that way”.

[Kyle]: So, when we aren't reactive, Sara, we are able to then be receptive, okay? So, we've had a podcast before about this about Dr. Siegel talking about reactive=bad. We don't want to be reactive, okay? So, every parent, you know what that looks like for you. Kid does something, bam, you react to it, okay? That's almost 100% of time not going to go well.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, the next step would be responsive in the ability to stop and think for a moment, but then he says even further from that, would be the ability to be receptive and so, that's kind of where we're putting in this reflective listening. Is you tie it in-- I know they're all four R's, which is fantastic for alliteration purposes, but you want to move into this reflective listening that ties in to being receptive to what the kid’s, you know, feeling and going for, okay? And so, this skill is so important, because it's going to help our kids not be controlled by their feelings. How does it do that? How does reflective listening help our kids not be so controlled and consumed by their feelings?

[Sara]: Well, I think because it-- You know, the funny thing about feelings is when we try to push them aside or don't give them space and don't actually listen to them, they don't-- They may-- It's kind of a volcano, they're just bubbling inside. There's gonna be another day, there's gonna be another moment and I don't care if you're 40 years old, that's still bubbling inside and reflective listening brings in the option to explore that and kind of let those out, in ways that-- So they don't-- They're not building up or processing one at a time. We're exploring, we're wondering about that. What's going on and we're talking to it and it also is then-- It's not like it owns the person, you are not that feeling. That feeling is then-- I liked your when you had your palm out, you're holding your hand out and that event is there, but it's like that emotion is there and you can kind of talk to that emotion and that emotion is serving a purpose in your life. So, we don't want to bury it or get rid of it as quick as possible, we kind of want to, you know, tune into it and go “what is this trying to give me right now in my life?”.

[Sara]: And I want to listen to that and it'll inform my future. It'll inform this moment that I'm in, this whatever the situation might be. So, it's important to tune to that.

[Sara]: And as a caregiver, you want to do that with your child, right? You want to come in with that reflective listening, to say “hey, tell me about this”.

[Sara]: And when they're telling you about it, you're trying to help them unpack those different perspectives. Because maybe they do at first say “yeah, I'm just stupid, that's why I can't get good grades”, you know? But then you're kind of helping them go “oh, but is there another angle?” and you do that by listening. “Oh, I hear you saying that you think you're stupid, but I'm kind of wondering, is there anything else?”.

[Sara]: So, you're hearing what they're saying and you're letting them know you hear it by saying it back to them. You know, not like a parrot, you're not just “You're saying I'm stupid”.

[Kyle]: Yes, that is not reflective listening, that's annoying.

[Sara]: That’s really annoying, yeah. You're actually kind of sliding into there.

[Kyle]: You’re trying to unpack it.

[Sara]: Yes, yes, you’re sliding them into their perspective and you know, if they're holding up glasses and looking through something, you’d say “hey, can I look through those two to see what you're seeing?”.

[Sara]: You know, and then you'd want to be like “I wonder if we look at it over here”.

[Sara]: And so, you're honoring it and exploring it with them.

[Kyle]: I love that one technique that Dr. Cohen from his book “The Opposite of Worry”, he talks about when our kids are getting these big feelings, lots of times they feel like they're a victim to the feeling and we do too, you know? We feel like the feeling's just taking over and it's like he said, it's like a picture of the feeling’s driving the car and you're in the passenger seat, and he said the tendency is when we react, is we want the feeling just to get out, you know? We want to either just shut it up or kick it out, but that doesn't help-- That doesn't help serve the purpose of the feeling, you know?

[Kyle]: The feeling isn't going away, so the feeling you could kick it out of the car, it's just going to cover the windshield or get on top of your car and keep screaming at you and so, he said “if you can just move the feeling over to the passenger seat, take the car back, you definitely want to do it. That's the emotional regulation piece”. So, you want to regulate your emotions, but then you want to talk to it and just-- I know it seems silly, but this actually is great to do with kids, even teenagers. “What's the feeling saying to you?”. So, yeah.

[Sara]: Even to yourself

[Sara]: You know, “what is that? What's that anxiety telling me?”.

[Kyle]: “Why am I so anxious about this?” and just let anxiety tell you what's going on. Because the feeling isn't good or bad, it just-- Is there to give you information about yourself and just think how cool that would be for your kids, to go off, leave your home, go to college and have the skill of knowing the feeling isn't there to hurt you, the feeling is there to actually tell you something about you. Like, think how helpful that would be if then your kid is in a questionable situation and they're feeling a little like “I don't know if this is the right place for me to be”.

[Sara]: Yeah, “what’s this uneasiness?”

[Kyle]: You we want the kid to listen to that feeling and go “yeah, this isn't where I want to be”, instead of going “oh, don't listen to that, don't listen to that, just get drunk and make it go away” or just like, you know, you want them to listen to it and be curious about it, you know?

[Sara]: They've learned to not have that immediate response of shutdown, they've learned to have that immediate response of just take a breath for a second, reflect, now turn to it and go “what is this trying to tell me in this moment?” and “let me choose my path”.

[Kyle]: Yeah. You know, one of the reasons why I chose this, Sara, is-- You know, it's something that we do all the time pretty naturally, without thinking about it. So, we didn't early on, for sure, but we've gotten better at it. But as our daughter's moving into the teenage years, I noticed I myself was slipping into a lot of reacting.

[Kyle]: She'd make these emotional statements and I'd be like “what!? What are you talking about!? What's this!?” and I’d be like… And I noticed the thing I slipped in was dismissing her feelings, correcting them or criticizing them, you know?

[Kyle]: And I was like “wait a second, the goal here isn't to somehow just make the situation go away”.

[Sara]: Oh, and you want to fix it so bad, though.

[Sara]: So hard to resist that fixing.

[Kyle]: I just wanted-- The goal here is to help her get this skill of reflecting on what's happening in her and that's actually why she's talking to us about it. She's not talking about “I hope they dismiss and correct and criticize”, you know? Or she's not even saying “I hope they make it all better”.

[Kyle]: She's saying “I need to understand this”.

[Sara]: “Can someone--”. Yeah, “can someone help me see? Do you see me? Do you understand me? Can you help me do that too?”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and they're actually kind of-- They're overwhelmed and they're saying “please help me understand this”. It's no different than a lot of marriage counseling is that, a lot of spouses have feelings they [Unintelligible] and then the other spouse dismisses, corrects or criticizes and it causes damage in the marriage. Like, no couple likes that, they all want the other couple to just be receptive and reflect on it with them. Because the point of reflecting out, when you do that, if you've ever felt somebody do that, it helps you really grow and change, it actually keeps you from being stuck.

[Sara]: And how much do you want that to happen in the teen years, right? You want the teenager not to depend on you, to come in with your magical answers to every problem they ever encounter, you actually are hoping they can come to these solutions and these ways of looking at things, right? So, sometimes you do need to-- You need to listen, you need to just do that reflective part and let them take that journey and it might take a while. Definitely, a slower process, right?

[Sara]: But that's where you're wanting them-- They need to be able to do that on they're own.

[Sara]: You know, and of course they hopefully have relationships and can engage in that, but they practice it with you, they build the skill with you so they can go out and do that.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and you can do this in simple stuff, Sara, from like “I don't really like math” and “oh, what is it about math? Because I remember last year you kind of enjoyed math and now you don't like math” or “I don't really like piano” or “I don't really like, you know, playing tennis” or whatever thing is and sometimes, parents are pretty good at that, about-- Especially if it's not-- If they're not taking it personal. They can just go “oh, yeah. Well, maybe tennis isn't your thing, maybe this other thing is your thing” or “you seem to have shifted from a lot of different things lately, is anything your thing? Or do you feel kind of hopeless in finding your thing?” and as you do that, you start to uncover the iceberg and what I mean by that, is this this picture of-- I'm sure many people listening have seen this, but you know, the studies show-- I don't remember the exact percentage, but really only like 8% or 10% of the choices and decisions you make throughout the day are conscious. Like, you actually thought about them and did them. 90% to 92% of those decisions throughout your day are just unconscious and you know, what I mean by that is your decision to walk, like how you walk, how you talk, how long you take a shower, how long you brush your teeth. Like, a lot of these things you don't think about, you just do them and they're unconscious.

[Kyle]: And so, if you can help somebody just raise their consciousness, their understanding, their self-awareness about what they're doing and how they're doing it, it then empowers them to change that, you know? So, some counselors even-- Going back to what we talked about last time this, you know, sometimes an outward in type thing; this is an outward in thing that that can be helpful. Is sometimes the counselors will tell a client “Just walk different today”, you know? So, today purposely be conscious about how you walk and reflect on it. You know, are you walking slower? I've had to do that when I'm walking with the kids. I'm a fast walker, I like to get from point A to point B quick and I've had to “what is it? How come I'm walking so fast? Why don't I slow down? What would happen if I slowed down and walked at their speed?” and I can feel the tension like “oh, I just want to go!”. But then there's something that's simple about just walking as slow as them and so, just even those kinds of ways of, why do you walk as fast you walk? Why do you take that long or that short in the shower? What are you trying to accomplish? And you know, how come you talk to people that way? And so, just reflect helps-- Helps reveal that iceberg that's covered up and you start to make more and more of your choices, become more and more conscious.

[Kyle]: So, therefore you can own those choices more.

[Sara]: Yeah, and how powerful would that be if you're doing that with your interactions with your children? Maybe you have a something that's just very “this is how I respond to this” and “this is how we greet each other”, but what if you just really paid attention in a day? During arguments or even during times of things going really really well and just like “why did I say that?” or “why did I do that?”. Just to kind of be curious and raise that awareness of things that have become habit.

[Sara]: And just think about them.

[Kyle]: I think one of the coolest, you know, breakthroughs that's really fun as a counselor to see when you're helping and coaching parents and teenagers, is when the parent feels the teenager give a thoughtful response, you know? Because it looks like they actually thought about it before they said it, you know? Because typically why they're coming for help is it's just a bunch of reactions, you know? Parents are reacting to the kid; the kids are reacting to the parent. Everybody feels controlled by the other person, because nobody's really stopping and just reflecting.

[Sara]: And you usually have done this dance a few times, so everyone kind of knows the moves.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, it's really cool when teenagers they purposely stop and they, you know, take a deep breath and then they think about what they're going to say and actually give a thought-out response or a thought-out answer.

[Kyle]: And you can see-- It's just they're so proud of it because they feel like “oh, I don't have to be controlled by my parents, I can actually decide what I say in this text” or “I can decide what I say to them in this conversation I'm having” and it just really-- It's really cool that self-awareness that “oh, all the things, all the choices I'm making are mine and I don't need to make these unconscious choices just reacting to my environment”, you know?

[Kyle]: Okay. So, I hope we gave you a real good taste of what reflective listening looks like. Let's move away from reacting. So, notice that, am I reacting too much? And instead, am I being curious? Like, when my kid is having these emotional things, how am I showing them curiosity and how am I helping them be more curious and understand themselves better? You know? So, I really hope that equips you to just stop and think about these interactions and start changing some of these dynamics. Especially with those teenagers, because that's really important, they really need this.

[Sara]: They do, it'll-- It's just-- I don't know, I don't want to say magical, but it's almost just magical in a relationship, where you do come in with that reflective listening and just watch how-- If they feel safe, how open they'll become and how you feel like you come together in addressing some problem or concern or whatever it might be, and if you’re just listening how-- It's just like a balm to them, it's just love when a teenager feels truly seen and just listened to.

[Kyle]: And it's something that Sara and I have to remember to do every day.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, it’s a work in progress.

[Kyle]: It’s not something that's just natural and if you want more just help with this, with your teenager, we have a great course we put together on called “How to communicate and understand your teenager” and I think it's-- I mean, it's got so much, 90-minutes’ worth of video content and skills and tips on how to connect through reflective listening and other skills like that. So, we hope that would be helpful to you as well.

[Kyle]: So, thank you for listening. Please share this podcast with your friends who have kids, who you really feel like need help with this and we just thank you for your time and hope you have a great day.

[Sara]: Thanks for listening.

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