Listening – a learned skill

This article first appeared on parenting website coffegroup.org 🙂

Most daily interactions involve listening. Real communication is the key to successful relationships and listening is a vital component. Meaningful conversations soon finish if one party isn’t paying attention. And for the one not being listened to over time there is a measurable effect on self esteem.

Having an ability to listen is an essential life skill. But how much are we really listening? Humans have a basic need to be listened to – to take in information, feel involved, be part of a family. But listening is a craft that needs to be learned. It takes time and effort to develop better listening skills. 

You can help your child’s listening skills every day. It only takes a few minutes to have a conversation that boosts their esteem or gets a worry off their chest. ‘Active listening’ is a technique where you paraphrase and repeat back what you’ve just heard. This clarifies you’ve heard correctly and clearly illustrates that you understand.

Ensure you have a decent conversation at least twice a day with your child. Listen carefully and actively – ask them open ended questions like “tell me about …” “tell me more …” and let him or her lead the conversation. I’ve found that the school morning dropoff became a treat rather than a stress, when I changed the approach – no radio, no clutter of background noise. It became a great chance to have ten quality minutes with my child. He leads the conversation and is happy to open up and tell me about most things in this environment. It’s not all about ‘deep and meaningfuls’, sometimes we play a listening version of ‘I spy’ – ‘I hear with my little ears’ – and he regularly stumps me. When we get to school we both feel rewarded for our efforts and more centred; ready for our busy days.

Another skill we learn via listening is what sounds to tune in and which to tune out. Although we’re born with ears we’re not born with the ability to automatically prioritise all the noise. Stand in one spot and listen carefully. You will notice about fifteen different sounds. That distant look on your toddler’s face is probably them focussing on the distant hum of the dryer! Help your child first learn what they are then prioritise between them by isolating each sound and explaining what they do.

In a world surrounded by visual stimulus its easy to forget our ears.

New Zealand’s rich storytelling traditions are in danger of being lost in amongst visual media for children. Start training your child to listen as early as you can because the first three years are vital to a child’s development. Make it enjoyable – and do daily.

By Liz Donnelly, creator of the Eardrop’s Journeys language and listening CDs.

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