As parents, we all want to raise confident and emotionally resilient children who can navigate life’s ups and downs with ease. As a parent of two teens, I know firsthand that raising kids is no walk in the park. It takes a lot of effort, patience, and a whole bunch of other things that I’m still trying to figure out.
But let me tell you about a little trick that I’ve picked up along the way. It’s called witnessing, and it might just be the best parenting tool for those times when your teens are struggling.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “What the heck is witnessing?” Well, it’s the art of listening to your children without judgment or the need to fix their problems. It’s about being present, fully attentive, and giving your kids the space to explore their emotions and experiences.
Sounds easy, right? But trust me, when your teenager is going through a tough time, it can be super tempting to offer advice or clichéd platitudes. But, as we’ll explore in this article, sometimes the best thing we can do as parents is to simply witness and be there for our kids. So, let’s dive in and learn more about this powerful parenting tool!
- What is Witnessing?
- Why is Witnessing Important in Parenting?
- The Benefits of Using Witnessing as a Parenting Tool
- How to Use Witnessing as a Parenting Tool
- Practical Tips for Parents
- Using Witnessing When Your Teen Is Misbehaving
What is Witnessing?
Witnessing, in the context of parenting, is a tool that parents can use to validate their child’s experiences, feelings, and emotions. It involves actively listening without judgment, acknowledging and accepting a child’s perspective, and responding in a supportive manner. Essentially, it means being present and engaged with your child, creating a safe space for them to express themselves freely.
When used appropriately, witnessing can have a tremendous impact on a child’s emotional well-being, helping them feel understood, accepted, and loved. It allows them to explore their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs without fear of being judged, criticized, or rejected. It helps them feel heard, understood, and valued, which can boost their self-esteem and resilience.
It’s a powerful parenting tool that can be used in any situation, whether your child is experiencing a difficult emotion, having a tantrum, or simply sharing an experience from their day.
It may sound easy, but believe me, when your child is struggling, it can be very difficult to refrain from offering advice or platitudes.
Here’s an example of a response that a parent could give while using witnessing as a parenting tool:
Child: “Mom, a boy at school called me a mean name today and everyone laughed at me.”
Parent (witnessing): “I’m sorry to hear that, sweetie. That sounds really tough. Can you tell me more about what happened?”
Child: “He said I was stupid and everyone started laughing.”
Parent (witnessing): “It sounds like that hurt your feelings. That must have been really hard for you.”
Child: “Yeah, it was. I don’t understand why he would say something like that.”
Parent (witnessing): “It’s okay not to understand. It sounds like you’re feeling hurt and confused right now. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”
In this response, the parent is using the witnessing parenting tool by simply acknowledging the child’s experience without trying to solve the problem or fix their emotions. The parent is allowing the child to express themselves and share empathy without judgment or interference. This can help the child feel seen and heard, which can be especially important during difficult or challenging times.
Here’s an example of a response a parent might give in the same situation but without using the witnessing parenting tool:
Child: “Mom, a boy at school called me a mean name today and everyone laughed at me.”
Parent (not using witnessing): “What? Who said that? I can’t believe someone would be so mean to you. Don’t worry, I’ll talk to your teacher about this and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In this response, the parent is not using the witnessing parenting tool because they are not simply acknowledging the child’s experience and allowing them to express themselves without judgment or interference. Instead, the parent is immediately trying to solve the problem and take control of the situation. While their intentions may be good, this approach may not give them the space they need to process their emotions.
Here’s an example of a response a parent might give in the same situation but where they are trying to give reasons or excuses as to why the other child might have been mean:
Child: “Mom, a boy at school called me a mean name today and everyone laughed at me.”
Parent (not using witnessing): “Oh no! That’s not fair. But maybe he was just having a bad day or something. Or maybe he didn’t mean it that way. You know how kids can be sometimes. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
In this response, the parent is not using the witnessing parenting tool because they are trying to give reasons or excuses for why the other child might have been mean rather than simply acknowledging the child’s experience and allowing them to express themselves without judgment or interference. While the parent may be trying to help the child feel better, this approach can come across as dismissive of the child’s feelings and prevent them from receiving the emotional support they need.
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Why is Witnessing Important in Parenting?
Witnessing helps you build a strong and trusting relationship with your child. When you listen to your child without judgment or criticism, they feel heard and understood, which strengthens your bond and helps them feel more comfortable opening up to you in the future.
Moreover, it promotes emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and empathy in teens. By witnessing your child’s experiences, you validate their feelings and help them develop a sense of self-worth and confidence.
The Benefits of Using Witnessing as a Parenting Tool
Witnessing, or simply observing and being present with your child without judgment or interference, can be a powerful parenting tool with many benefits, including:
1. Increased emotional connection
By simply being present with your child without trying to control or influence them, you can build a deeper emotional connection with them. This can help your child feel seen and heard, which can be especially important during difficult or challenging times.
2. Encourages effective communication
Witnessing can help improve communication between you and your child. When you’re not trying to direct the conversation or fix things, your child may feel more comfortable opening up and sharing their thoughts and feelings with you.
3. Promotes better understanding
Listening to your child when they open up and share their feeling and experiences with you will help you understand them on a deeper level.
4. Increased self-awareness
As a parent, witnessing can also help you become more self-aware. By observing your child without trying to change or control them, you may notice your own thoughts, emotions, and reactions. This can help you become more mindful and present in your interactions with your child.
5. Reduced stress
Parenting can be stressful, and witnessing can help reduce that stress. When you’re not focused on fixing or changing your child, you may feel more relaxed and calm. This can create a more peaceful atmosphere in your home.
6. Reduces parent-child conflict
If you’re less stressed and your child feels heard, there will undoubtedly be less tension in the home and ultimately less conflict between you. Witnessing used along with other parenting tools can enhance a positive parent-child relationship.
7. Improved problem-solving skills
By simply observing your child and letting them work through problems on their own, you can help them develop problem-solving skills. This can be especially valuable as they grow and face more complex challenges.
8. Increased independence & self-esteem
Witnessing can also help foster independence in your child. By allowing them to make their own choices and decisions, you can help them develop a sense of autonomy and self-reliance.
9. Improved emotional regulation
Your child can also learn to regulate their emotions through witnessing. By giving them the space and time to process their emotions, you can help them develop healthy coping skills.
Overall, witnessing can be a valuable tool for parents who want to build deeper emotional connections with their children and help them develop important life skills.
❤️ Suggested reading: Psychological Impact Of Different Parenting Styles On Teens
How to Use Witnessing as a Parenting Tool
To use witnessing as a parenting tool, follow the steps below:
Step 1: Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
The first step in using witnessing as a parenting tool is to create a safe and supportive environment for your child. This means creating a space where your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings and thoughts without fear of judgment or criticism.
To create a safe and supportive environment, use positive language, avoid blaming or shaming your child, and listen actively to what they are saying. Pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, and respond with empathy and understanding.
Step 2: Practice Mindfulness
To be an effective witness, you need to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”Mindful.org
It involves paying attention to your child’s behaviors, emotions, and thoughts without trying to change or fix them. You need to focus on the moment right now and not be thinking of how their behavior or actions might affect them in the future.
Mindfulness helps you stay connected with your child and helps you respond to their needs more effectively.
Step 3: Listen Without Judgment or Evaluation
The third step in using witnessing as a parenting tool is to listen to your child without judgment or evaluation. This means avoiding the urge to interrupt, criticize, or fix their problems.
Instead, focus on listening attentively to what they are saying, and acknowledge their experience. You can do this by using phrases like “I hear you,” or “I understand how you feel.”
Step 4: Validate Your Child’s Feeling
Next, you should validate your child’s feelings. Validating your child’s emotions means acknowledging their feelings and letting them know that you understand how they feel. Validation helps your child feel heard and seen, which builds trust and strengthens your relationship.
You can validate your child’s feelings by saying things like “I know this is hard for you,” or “It’s okay to feel sad or angry.”
Step 5: Reflect Your Child’s Experience
Another tool parents can use is to reflect on their child’s experience. This means summarizing what they have said and repeating it back to them in your own words.
By reflecting your child’s experience, you show them that you are listening and that you understand what they are saying. You can do this by saying things like “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying,” or “What I’m hearing is that you feel…”
Be prepared to not always get this right, but stay calm and go back to listening and validating.
Step 6: Avoid Giving Advice or Criticism
The sixth (and most important) step in using witnessing as a parenting tool is to avoid giving advice or criticism. Remember that witnessing is about listening and acknowledging your child’s experience, not solving their problems or criticizing their behavior.
If your child asks for advice, you can offer it, but make sure to do so in a way that respects their autonomy and encourages them to make their own decisions. You can also offer support and encouragement without giving advice by saying things like “I believe in you,” or “You can do this.”
Step 7: Respond to Your Child’s Needs
After you have witnessed your child’s behavior and validated their emotions, you will be able to respond to their needs. You can respond to your child’s needs by offering comfort and reassurance. They might need space at first to work through some emotions on their own. Be sure to give them space and encourage them to problem-solve on their own while letting them know you’re available to chat whenever they need you.
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Practical Tips for Parents
Here are some practical tips for parents who want to use witnessing as a parenting tool:
1. Be present
Being present with your child means giving them your full attention. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus on your child. Listen to what they have to say, and try to understand their perspective. Being present with your child shows them that you value them and their feelings.
2. Validate their emotions
When your child is upset, it can be tempting to dismiss their feelings or try to fix the problem. However, this can make your child feel unheard and invalidated. Instead, acknowledge their emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel the way they do. Say something like, “I can see that you’re feeling sad right now. That’s okay. I’m here for you.”
3. Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions can help your child express their feelings and thoughts more clearly. Instead of asking yes or no questions, ask questions that encourage your child to share more. For example, instead of asking, “Did you have a good day at school?” ask, “What was the best part of your day today?”
4. Use reflective listening
Reflective listening is a technique that involves repeating back what your child has said to you. This shows your child that you are listening to them and understanding their perspective. For example, if your child says, “I hate when my teacher yells at me,” you could say, “It sounds like you your teacher yells a lot and I understand that you feel upset.”
5. Avoid judgment and criticism
Judgment and criticism can make your child feel ashamed or embarrassed for their emotions. Avoid saying things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “That’s a silly thing to be upset about.” Instead, focus on validating their emotions and helping them understand why they feel the way they do.
6. Practice self-awareness
As a parent, it’s important to be aware of your own emotional triggers and biases. If you find yourself reacting strongly to your child’s emotions, take a step back and try to understand why. Practicing self-awareness can help you be more present and empathetic with your child.
7. Be patient
Witnessing takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and your child as you learn to use this tool effectively.
8. Use language that promotes emotional awareness
Encourage your child to talk about their emotions by using language that promotes emotional awareness. Ask open-ended questions and avoid judgmental language.
9. Create a daily ritual
Creating a daily ritual, such as reading a book or having a family meal, can help you stay connected with your child and provide opportunities for witnessing.
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Using Witnessing When Your Teen Is Misbehaving
As a parent, it can be challenging to know the right way to discipline your child when they misbehave. One approach that has been gaining popularity in recent years is the use of witnessing as a parenting tool. Witnessing involves observing your child’s behavior without judgment or criticism and then reflecting back to them what you see.
First, it’s important to understand why witnessing works. When children misbehave, it’s often because they are seeking attention or trying to express their emotions in a way they don’t know how to articulate. Witnessing allows you to acknowledge your child’s behavior without shaming them, which can help them feel heard and understood. By doing this, you can create a sense of safety and trust that can help your child open up to you and communicate more effectively.
For example, your teen might be upset that they cannot find their favorite t-shirt. They might be shouting and blaming a sibling for taking it, or blaming you for not washing it, etc.
The important thing to understand is that they’re not angry at you but upset that they cannot find what they’re looking for. They’re trying to find a reason and therefore feel the need to blame someone.
And even though it is most likely nobody’s fault, and they shouldn’t be blaming anyone, they do have the right to feel upset. They have the right to feel their emotions.
It’s our responsibility to not take it personally and stay calm.
You might say something like, “I see that you’re feeling upset right now because you can’t find your t-shirt.”
It’s important to remember that witnessing is not about judging or criticizing your child’s behavior. Instead, it’s about creating a safe space for them to express their emotions and feel heard. When you reflect back to your child what you see, try to do so in a neutral and non-judgmental way. This will help your child feel validated and understood, which can help them regulate their emotions more effectively.
Another way to use witnessing as a parenting tool is to model it yourself. When you are upset or frustrated, take a moment to observe your own behavior and reflect on what you are feeling. Then, share this with your child in a non-judgmental way. For example, you might say something like, “I’m feeling really frustrated right now because I can’t find my keys.” By modeling this behavior, you can teach your child how to regulate their own emotions and communicate more effectively.
Finally, it’s important to remember that witnessing is not a magic solution to all parenting challenges. It’s just one tool in your toolkit. When your child is misbehaving, it’s important to consider the context and the underlying reasons for their behavior. Witnessing can be a helpful way to create a safe space for your child to express their emotions, but it’s not a substitute for setting boundaries or addressing problematic behavior.
We often feel the need to help our children by fixing their problems or making them seem important less than they are. By purely being there for your child and listening to them, they will open up so much more frequently and feel safe doing so.
Practice regulating your own emotions when your kids are small with small problems so that they will open up to you about more serious topics like depression and drug experimentation when their teenagers.
Be prepared to be available to your child at any time, as they will tend to open up to you at the most inopportune times. It might be inconvenient but these moments of connection are the building blocks to a strong and wonderfully fulfilling relationship with your child.