How important are listening skills?
You know how frustrating it is to have to say something two or three (or more) times before your child will listen to you. And half the time, you don’t know if she’s just ignoring you or isn’t actually hearing what you say.
Let’s change that.
Listening is a skill that is among the most important to a successful life. When your child is actively listening, she is able to gather information, store that information, analyze it, and eventually retrieve it. She’ll have stronger communication skills, enabling her to ask for clarification, and share ideas and thoughts. When she listens to others, they will find her more empathetic, able to handle conflict better, and find common ground among her peers. And her interpersonal relationships will improve.
Ways to improve listening skills
Playing sound games is a wonderful way to build good listening skills. From the time your child is an infant, reciting nursery rhymes and simple songs will help her learn to listen. Take her on a “sound walk,” and encourage her to listen to sounds she can hear as well as looking at things she can see. Listen first, then try to find the source of the sound.
“I Spy” and “Twenty Questions” are both games that encourage listening, as is “Simon Says” for the younger ones. In all three games, children have to listen closely to extract the information they need to formulate an appropriate response.
Kids imitate adults. Your listening skills must be up to par if you expect your child’s to improve. Practice really listening when your child talks to you, and model the behavior you hope to see.
Here are my top ten techniques to help you talk so your child will listen.
- Use your child’s name. You like to hear your own name; we all do. So does your child. Start any conversation with your child’s name and gain brownie points right off the bat. Repeat her name until she looks at you or otherwise acknowledges that she is paying attention. Making eye contact is the best way to know she is listening.
- Speak positively. Try to avoid saying “no” and “don’t” as much as possible. Unless there’s a really good reason for saying no, try to say yes. Keep ridiculing and shaming words out of your vocabulary. Use a positive tone, encouraging and affirming. Watch your self-talk, too, as kids are great imitators. If you have a low self-esteem, chances are your child will, too.
- Volume is great. Yelling is not. Use volume appropriately. When your child yells at you, yelling back will only escalate the problem. Try whispering instead.
- Offer alternatives. Kids cooperate better when they have alternatives to choose from. Use “when…then” statements to help them cooperate. “When you have changed your clothes from school, then you can play outside. Would you like a snack first or after you’ve changed your clothes?”
- Get down at their level. Making eye contact is best done on the same level as the child. Adults are big and intimidating, so getting down to the child’s level makes it easier for him to listen. Be sure when it’s your turn to listen that you maintain eye contact and are quiet while the child talks.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off the computer and silence the phone. Pause the movie or turn off the TV. Do these things when your child wants to talk to you, not just when you want to talk to him. If you simply cannot break from what you’re doing, politely tell the child that you will give him your undivided attention in (be specific) minutes.
- Ask open-ended questions. Your child will learn to think out responses if your requests for information are open-ended (can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”). For instance, instead of saying “Did you have a good day today?” try asking “What did you learn in school today?” Then show interest in the answer. Respond by rephrasing their answer or seeking more information. “You did? I bet that was fun. How did you feel about it?”
- Give warning notice. No one likes to have what they’re engrossed in interrupted. Adults don’t and neither do children. When it is nearing time to change activities or leave, give your child some notice. “Andy, we are going to leave in 10 minutes. Start saying goodbye to your friends.”
- Don’t interrupt. It is rude to interrupt anyone, including your child. Be patient as your little one tries to communicate with you. Don’t finish sentences or show impatience with them as they try to find the right words to convey thoughts.
- Prioritize communication with your kids. The more you communicate with your kids, the more they will communicate back. Your interactions with them sets the stage for their interactions with others. Good communications with parents develops confidence, self-esteem and cooperation with others. It is also the cornerstone for good relationships.