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Do we really listen?

December 3, 2007

by Jenni Sebora

Do we really listen to our children when they talk to us? I mean, really listen.

If we want our children to listen to us, and others for that matter, we have to model good listening skills for them. We know that communication with our children is vital, and communication is a two-way street.

I know for myself, as a mother of three, I have broken some listening laws.

I enjoy hearing what my children have to say, and I try and evoke some thought-provoking answers from them, not just questions that require yes or no answers. But I have had the tendency to not completely hear them out. I understand how annoying and irritating this can be, so I am working on this.

In fact, here are 10 top irritating habits, basically listening violations, Carl Smith noted in an article “How Can Parents Model Good Listening Skills?” on www.focusas.com. Inter-rupting is certainly one of them.

Listening violations

1. Interrupting.

2. Not looking at the person speaking.

3. Rushing the speaker.

4. Showing interest in something other than the conversation.

5. Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing his or her thoughts.

6. Not responding to the speaker’s requests.

7. Saying, “Yes, but . . . ”

8. Topping the speaker’s story with “That reminds me…” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you about…”

9. Forgetting about what was talked about previously.

10. Asking too many questions about details.

And if you think about it, all of these communication violations are very annoying, and most of us have probably broken some, if not all of them, especially with our children.

We also know that listening is a major part of a child’s school day, as well. “It is how they take in a majority of their instructions and information throughout the day. In fact, approximately 50 to 75 percent of classroom time is spent listening to the teacher, other students, and other audio input,” Smith noted.

Being a good listener means focusing on the message and reviewing the important information. We, as parents, can help teach our children about these skills. Here are some ways we can model listening skills, Smith noted:

• Be interested in what they have to say. Turn the television off (be willing to get rid of outside distractions) and look our children in their eyes when we speak to them. Maintain eye contact with them to show them that what they have to say is important.

• Encourage talking. Invite them in on conversation. Ask them questions that require more than just yes or no answers.

• Listen with patience. We think faster than we speak, Smith noted, and children often need more wait time than adults to find the words they want to use.

• Here we go – hear children out and avoid cutting them off before they are finished. Respect their right to express their opinions.

• Make sure to “listen” to nonverbal messages, which certainly can be just as telling. Facial expression, tone of voice, energy, posture, or changes in behavior are all ways our children (all of us, for that matter) talk to us. Find an appropriate time to talk about these messages.

We can also improve our comm-unication with our children by:

• Extending conversation that they may have started. Restate parts of your child’s conversation by using some of the same words that they used, which signifies to them that we are listening to what they are saying.

• Sharing your thoughts and evoking their opinions about things, such as if you are trying to pick out a color to paint your kitchen or a shirt to wear, etc. This helps children feel that what they have to say is important and that we want to hear their opinions.

Smith also says that one of the most important skills good listeners have is the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or empathize with the speaker. We can try and reflect our children’s feelings by repeating them, such as, “It sounds like you are angry at your friend or teacher, etc.”

He further states that rephrasing what children have said is helpful when they are experiencing powerful emotions that they may not even be totally aware of.

Also, know when to stop. Watch for signs that they are emitting that it is time to quit talking. They may start looking off or acting silly or just plain tell us that it is time to stop conversing for a while.

Role modeling good communi-cation skills for our children is important, and we, as parents, spend more time with our children than any other adult person. And children care about us as parents and what we have to say (even if they don’t always show it).

“The greatest audience children can have is an adult who is important to them and interested in them.”

– Carl Smith