Release destructive emotions


Use the Intentional Dialogue Technique to Make a Positive Attitude Adjustment in Your Home

I Love You So Big! Blog – Lynne Namka, © 2011-13

“I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die … By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heavens knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”  - Charlotte from the book Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen Hunt have written two excellent books for parents called Getting the Love that Heals: a Guide for Parents and The Parent’s Companion: Meditations and Exercises for Giving the Love that Heals. Every home should have one of these books in their parenting library. Here are the three steps from their great communication enhancer called Intentional Dialogue. 

intentional dialogue, feelings, listening, empathy
Mirroring, Validate and Empathize are the three crucial steps from their great communication enhancer called Intentional Dialogue. Practice these step with your children and other to encourage honest, open communication.

1. MIRRORING: Parrot or paraphrase your child’s message back showing you got their viewpoint. Mirroring connects you with your child. It helps her feel like you are on the same wavelength as she is.

  • Let me see if I got this right . . .
  • I heard you say . . .
  • So you said…
  • Let me see if I understood this….

Then ask her for more. Get to the bottom of everything there is to be said about the topic. After you paraphrase, ask.

  • Is there more?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • Anything else?
  • Did I get it all?

Listen and repeat, and ask for more information is the basis of mirroring. Repeat what your child says until she wears her idea out. If you don’t get it right and she feels safe with you, she will clarify the message for you. Keep it going until the topic is exhausted for her.

2. VALIDATE what she has said: Validating is not agreeing with what your child says. It is accepting her feelings as being his true feelings. It is seeing it from her point of view. It is walking the mile in her shoes and understanding from her perspective. Never tell your child that she should not feel a certain way. Feelings are normal. Expressing them and being heard and validated by someone else often helps the excesses of emotion go away. Having someone hear you and not judge you allows a safe release of pent up feelings. Remember the research that said that most kids act out because they do not feel heard and validated by adults.

Listen to your child until you really get their internal logic! Remember you do not have to agree with it, just understand it. No attempts to correct the irrational thinking now – that will come later.

Let him know you might have a clue (however a small one and never, never say I KNOW what you are going through). You can say I understand or I might have felt that way myself, but never I KNOW. Validating their feelings by relating them to something you might have experienced does two things: 1. It forces you to see the experience from their eyes because you, yes, you ancient one, were once a teen yourself, and 2. It builds a bridge that the two of you could meet in the middle to talk.

Here is the hardest part: Empty yourself of the need to lecture. Do not go into problem solving with your child. Listen to her and he upset feelings! Tune into her message and say how you might understand (not that you do necessarily, but that you might.)

  • I can see that you might feel that because . . .
  • I can understand that because….
  • That once happened to me so I get where you are coming from…
  • That makes sense to me because once I . . .

Keep your example how you felt the same way very short! Only one or two sentences. Don’t retell stories she has heard many times before. All you need to say is “I understand, because something like that happened to me once.” Then turn the topic of concern back to your child and his feelings. This is about your being there for your child – not being the reactive parent.

3. EMPATHIZE and GUESS the Feeling: Really get what your child and take the conversation to the feeling level. Try your best to understand what your child is saying and try to get the feeling.

Pick one or more feelings and reflect that back to her. Help her give a label to the feelings. Guess if you have to. If you get it wrong, she will correct you. The key here is to be genuinely understanding of what your child is saying and express it back so she can label and validate the uncomfortable feelings.

  • That must make your feel . . .
  • I can imagine that you might feel confused about….
  • I wonder if you are feeling hurt under all that anger?

You don’t have to agree with your child’s feelings. And you don’t have to do anything about it other than give it a name. Just try to understand. Go to the place of “Given your experience, I can see how your might feel”  or “I don’t feel that way, but I’m big enough to understand that you might feel that way”.

Don’t just mouth the feelings words here. Be sincere. Sarcasm will distance you. Again, no problem solving. Sometimes all it takes is for the child to feel heard and empathized with; a solution is not always necessary.

Your child desperately wants your love. She wants to be connected not matter how she acts on the outside. Young people often feel misunderstood. Teenagers make feeling misunderstood an art form! Then he or she will react with anger, hurt or sullenness and refusal to talk. Intentional Dialogue gives a format where your child has a safe place to go with feelings.

Taking things down past the intellect (the head) to the feeling level (the heart) helps people feel understood. Remember, you don’t have to agree with what is being said. It helps when you get to a level of empathy as to the deepest part of what is going on – the feelings. Empathy is the ability to see things from the perspective of another person and feel compassion.

The ability to have satisfying personal relationships and a well-defined sense of self is boosted with developing the skill of empathy. This dialogue approach teaches your child how to become an empathetic person.

Check out Lynne Namka’s award-winning site for more articles on communicating with your families.

Listen to Your Children with Open Ears and a Mostly Shut Mouth

I Love You So Big! Blog – Lynne Namka, © 2011-13

“If I can keep still and listen to my sixteen year old, I’ll be the first parent on the block to know what’s going on with this alien teen nation by tuning into my inner trend meter! – Anonymous

Be there fully when your child talks to you. So, even if you are facing a hundred shades of hostility during those Years of Unbearable Kid Tension, take time to stop and listen. Listen from your heart. Don’t be a halfway listener. Don’t tune out when your children talk or start doing something else. I notice that my children would sometimes choose my most incontinent time to talk to me about something trivial which then might turn into something important. It’s like they had to test me to see if I were really listening before they would unburden their heart.

listening to your child, listen, intentioanl diologue, getting the love

You can increase closeness with your child if you really hear what he says. Your listening helps him feel understood and breaks into the loneliness that young people get into.

You can increase closeness with your child if you really hear what he says. Your listening helps him feel understood and breaks into the loneliness that young people get into. Reflecting back the content of his message and getting to the real meaning without becoming defensive is one of the highest-level skills you can achieve! Put your own feelings on hold for a few minutes to totally listen. If you have a youngster who withholds information about his life, learn ways to get him to open up.

Just keep remembering as you listen – “This is not about me being the parent who must discipline. Discipline will come later. This is not about explaining things to him or punishing him. This is only about listening so he can express his feelings. This is seeing it from my child’s point of view! This is my trying to understand my child’s feelings, so he can get them out.” No shoulds. No problem solving. This is total unconditional – “I’ll be there for you!” Science fiction writers Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter tell it well: “What we need is a machine that will let us see the other guy’s point of view.” We don’t have such a machine, but we do have a fantastic technique.

Listen for information about what is really going on in your child’s world. Let your child be the expert and teach you about teen culture, about drugs, alcohol and sex. Active listening is a skill that is necessary for relationships. Feeling understood in this world of confusion and chaos allows the young person to risk opening up more.

So talk with your children about risky behaviors. Two talks with teens leads to less marijuana use for at least a year, a recent study found. A brief, voluntary conversation with an adult led to up to a 20 percent decrease in marijuana use for teenagers who frequently used the drug. And then listen to learn!

Harville Hendrix gives a formula that encourages active listening, called Intentional Dialogue. This approach keeps the person who is hurt or upset talking to get down to the bottom line feeling and express their deepest pain. Hendrix’s book, “Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples,” offers great tools for understanding family dynamics. Read this fine book for your own growth, improving communication in your marriage and with your children. Many people choose to do the exercises together from the book to strengthen their relationship.

You know you need the Intentional Dialogue Technique if you are having free-for-alls if you and your child yell a lot or don’t communicate at all. Hendrix has authored two books for parents along with his wife Helen Hunt which are Getting the Love that Heals: a Guide for Parents and The Parent’s Companion: Meditations and Exercises for Giving the Love that Heals.

Another good book on supporting your teen and getting them to open up to you is How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This small book is written in cartoon style so will be an easy read for you.

Button your lips on your own anger when attempting to listen to your youngster! You have to resist any need to lecture or teach when your child is talking about something that is upsetting to him. Not responding in anger yourself or setting him straight is tough.

Intentional Dialogue works. It can defuse the hurt and disappointment under the outburst. Three simple steps will make your child feel really heard and validated.  Keep your focus on the three steps rather than moralizing at this point. (You will get to make your own point across later.) First just help your child talk his issue of feeling misunderstood through to get to the bottom line feelings. Doing an Intentional Dialogue when your child is upset is going into the eye of the storm.

Check out the books mentioned in this article through these links:

Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix

Getting the Love that Heals: a Guide for Parents by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt

The Parent’s Companion: Meditations and Exercises for Giving the Love that Heal by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt

How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Validating is Listening

I Love You So Big! Blog – Lynne Namka, © 2011-13

My wife played a tape of me arguing with my daughter and I couldn’t believe it was me talking. I was out of my head. – A co-dependent dad

Stay listening. You will be surprised at what you can learn from your children. Practice active listening. Children feel validated when someone really listens rather than just judging them, that’s one reason their peers gain so much power over them. If their friends listen and make them feel accepted and you do not, guess whose values they will take in.

active listening, validating

Try to understand that children do go through phases and the best thing to do is just ride them out. Learn active listening and work on cleaning up your lecturing so you can talk in the ways that your children will actually listen.

To encourage open communication get your child to think and express his or her opinion. Know that the opinion is probably a transitory one and won’t be acted upon unless you overreact and go ballistic. Listen to their opinion then ask them to respect you and listen as you express yours. Remind your child that your opinion is based on years of experience and living. Remember that he is trying on different ways of thinking and opinions and may not even believe what he passionately says. He may say thing just to shock you. It may be an idea he just heard and is working though. See this as a time to teach your child values, but if you start to insist or argue for your side, he will become more entrenched in his. Opinions are not set in stone during the teen years, but fluctuate according to the ever shifting mood and who is influencing him from the outside world.

Kids’ unusual ideas can be anxiety provoking to parents if you give it power and make it out to be more than it is. If you start to panic at what you hear, tell yourself, “Jeez-Louise, it is just his IDEA or OPINION at this moment. What if I just hear it through as if it’s an idea, not something he is actually going to do? Kids’ opinions are fickle, they change all the time.” Then think back to some weird belief that he used to have and how that changed. Don’t buy into your fear that he will always thing this way or act it out.

So if you are worried about her dressing Goth or playing Doom or games with too much gore, see it as another children phase that he is going through. Just as the monsters under the bed phrase or calling everyone “Poopie” chapter of your lives together that drove you crazy, this too will pass, if you let it. I thought I would go crazy as a young mother when my children went through the phrase of calling each other fatso. Guess what? They outgrew it.

Try to understand that children do go through phases and the best thing to do is just ride them out. Learn active listening and work on cleaning up your lecturing so you can talk in the ways that your children will actually listen. You are the adult here! Most of your values will come through in the long run if you don’t protest too much about their latest one. The longer you protest in days, months and years, the longer their phase will be. Don’t turn differences in values into a power struggle.

Look for my article Parent Cues To Teach Children To Express Upset Feelings at or other articles for help with communicating with children at

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