Teach your kids the art of listening

2011-06-16 00:00

AN awful habit that I have developed as a parent is to not take the time to stop and listen to my children. Often they have a story to tell me and instead of stopping to engage with them I say, “I’m listening — follow me.” Then as I dash about doing my chores they tag behind telling me their tale. While I can multitask, what message am I telling my children regarding the importance of listening?

Listening is a fundamental tool that is responsible for us learning to talk and communicate. Listening allows us to know what is happening around us and how we are required to engage with our environment. Often we ask our children if they are listening to us and yet we have never taught them to stop and really hear.

Our world is a world of noises and sounds, many of which bypass our ears unheard. One important listening skill to develop is that of being able to block out background noise and focus on the single voice or sound that is requiring your attention. This is particularly important in the classroom.

The child who is unable to block out the lawn mower, a car passing and the squeak of his friend’s pencil will not be able to focus on his teacher’s voice. On the flipside, however, with so many sounds assaulting our ears all the time, children don’t learn what sounds are important and they tend to block them all out — even the teacher’s or parent’s voice. It is therefore important that, as parents, we take the time to teach our children how to listen, discern different sounds and choose which ones to focus upon.

We need to stop nagging and always telling our children things as then our voice simply fades into background noise.

Once a child was reprimanded by her teacher, she went home and told her mother how the teacher had carried on and on. No, she didn’t know what the teacher had said but “the teacher’s voice had sounded just like cat’s fighting”. What an explicit example of what may be going on inside a child’s mind while we think they are listening to our long-winded speeches.

The first step in training our child’s listening skills is to keep our instructions and explanations short and to the point.

Secondly, insist on eye contact before you give an instruction — ensure their undivided attention.

We need to assist our children in hearing many different sounds and then help them single out and listen to one of them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply stop life for a few minutes and spend some time listening. You may be in the shops, the garden, outside the school or visiting granny — you can suddenly initiate “I hear with my little ear…” and then let you child rattle off all the sounds he or she can hear. Now challenge the child to see if he or she can find out more information about one of the sounds. You may ask your child to try to imitate a bird’s sound, or if he or she hears cars or a truck or how many children he or she thinks are shouting. This will then require the child to single out one sound and focus upon only it.

In order to excel in our audi-tory world, being able to focus on a single sound and truly listen to it is an ability every child needs to develop and as parents we need to help them build this vital life skill.

• Joanne Madgwick is a parenting and educational consultant. Find out more about her at www.susa parentcenter.com

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