What did I just say? Are you listening to me? In one ear and out the other! Sound familiar? We’ve all heard this said to us and probably even said it ourselves.
Listening is one of the most important skills needed to be successful in any endeavor. We often take it for granted just how one becomes a good listener. Most teachers and parents just expect kids to be good listeners and never think about how to cultivate listening skills.
When I discuss listening with my 4-7-year-old students, I always start with the following definition: Listening is hearing with the intention of understanding. Hearing is simply hearing a sound; listening is comprehending what it is you are hearing. So, in order to listen you need focus. Below are a few tips to help kids improve their listening.
- Eye Contact
When someone is speaking to us, whether one on one or in a large group, remember to maintain eye contact. Keeping your eyes focused helps limit the distractions you may encounter and will show the speaker respect.
- Focused Mind
We need to actively be thinking about what the person is saying as they are speaking. Don’t assume you know what they are talking about. Wait until they are finished before forming an opinion or question.
- Still Body
Keeping a still, focused body will help you be a better listener too. When you are fidgety or can’t sit/stand still, your mind will naturally be distracted, and you won’t be able to comprehend what the speaker is talking about.
- Zip It
A few years ago, a 5-year-old in one of my classes said, “In order to listen you need to zip it!” I usually just tell people that in order to listen they can’t be talking but her way is much more direct. If you are talking or even thinking about what you want to say, you can’t effectively be listening.
- Be a Good Example
Most of us probably don’t think about whether or not we are being good listeners as adults. We assume we have this skill mastered and that this is something kids need work on. In general us adults are good at listening to friends, coworkers, and peers but how often do you think about listening to your kids? Do you listen to them as if they were a peer or coworker? Most kids just want to be heard without the fear of being told what to do. In order to be a good example of a listener when your kids speak:
- Get down to their level. Don’t look down on them. Kneel or sit so you are eye to eye.
- Just listen. Don’t speak until they are done or if they ask a question.
- Be engaged. Don’t check your phone or watch TV. Actively listen and ask them questions or follow along with affirmative statements: “That’s cool!” “I did not know that!” “Wow, I can’t believe it!”, etc.
Believe it or not, listening to kids will help when it is time for them to listen to you. When you demonstrate active listening with your kids, they know you are not just going to yell at them and will be more likely to listen.
I have a 15-month-old son and I am trying to remember these things with him. Here are two examples from my own experience:
- Occasionally he has a fit because I took something away from him or something along those lines. If his fit is not subsiding right away, I pick him up and hold him, so we are eye to eye. In a calm voice I ask him “What’s the matter?” I’ll say something like “You can’t play with that because it is dangerous. Why don’t you play with this instead?” After he calms down, I ask him “Are you ok now?” I then set him down and tell him “Good job buddy.” This has yet to fail, even once.
- My wife makes fun of me, but I often have conversations with my son. Yes, I know he can’t talk yet, but I am trying to make sure he knows I am always here to listen. When he starts his typical 1-year old baby talk, I am sure to look him in the eye and follow along as if he is telling me a story. I nod and give him affirmative statements like I mentioned above. It usually does not last very long until he runs off to find something else but during those few minutes, I am sure to be actively engaged with him.
So, just remember, being a good listener is a skill just like any other. It takes work, it takes practice, and don’t just take it for granted.