It’s Time to Look Past the Behaviour

I follow the steps of active compassionate listening:

  1. Listen intently. (Show your interest in what your child is telling you, even if you don’t agree)
  2. Refrain from interrupting. (This can be very hard to do. A tip I give my parent coaching clients is to place your tongue behind your teeth and hold if need be)
  3. Refrain from judgement. (It can show on your face or be heard in your tone of voice)
  4. Refrain from comparing yourself to others. (We get a sense of comradeship when we say, “Oh yes that’s happened to me too”, but what happens instead is that we take away from their experience of what they are feeling)

Debbie Reber, author of the book Differently Wired, points out that what’s needed is for the parent to look at the situation from a place of “What is this child struggling with right now?”. and think about what they can do to support that child through it. “They can be supportive so their child doesn’t feel abandoned, but at the same time, not take their child’s energy on.” Make a decision to respond to your child instead of reacting to them. I know, it’s easy to say but it’s so very hard to do in the moment!

Try instead to take a deep breath and see if responding in the one of the following ways helps:

  • Get down to their level. When we lower ourselves down to their level it helps to calm everything for a child in a state of overwhelm.
  • Recognise and acknowledge their experience with calm, soothing words like “It’s OK to feel this way”, or “We’ll figure it out”, or “I’m here when you’re ready.”
  • Repeat back to them with complete sincerity what they’re expressing to you. This helps to validate their feelings and make them feel heard and respected.
  • Do they need to remove themselves to calm down? Some children need to find their own space away from sensory overload. We call this a “safe space” and they are especially important at school.
  • And finally, listen intently and silently.

The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent. – Alfred Brendel

If you’re feeling in any way overwhelmed by your children’s big emotions and needing support in understanding what the behaviours mean, please do reach out to me for support. Being an emotional needs detective is my superpower.


Kylie Johnston, coach and founder of Heart Centred Parenting, loves helping parents to have a calmer, happier home life – where you and your kids listen to each other, where there is more cooperation, you feel energised to spend time with your kids and know how to help them gain resilience. Visit her website to get in touch, and follow Heart Centred Parenting on Facebook and Instagram.

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