Listen Better, Learn More
In one of the Family Circus cartoon strips, the little girl looks up at her father, who is reading the newspaper, and says: "Daddy, you have to listen to me with your eyes as well as your ears."
That statement says almost all there is to say about listening, whether in our personal conversations or in learning in school.
Do listening skills affect learning? Listening isn't a school subject like reading and writing. Many of us seem to feel it comes naturally and that as long as we can listen to directions on how to find the restroom, nothing more needs to be said. The latest studies reveal that listening is a very large part of school learning and is one of our primary means of interacting with other people on a personal basis. It's estimated that between 50 and 75 percent of students' classroom time is spent listening to the teacher, to other students, or to audio media.
Can parents guide their children to better listening? According to research on listening skills, being a good listener means focusing attention on the message and reviewing the important information. Parents can model good listening behavior for their children and advise them on ways to listen as an active learner, pick out highlights of a conversation, and ask relevant questions. Sometimes it helps to "show" children that an active listener is one who looks the speaker in the eye and is willing to turn the television off to make sure that the listener is not distracted by outside interference.
Guidelines for Good Listening
Be interested and attentive. Your child can tell whether he has your interest and attention by the way you reply or not. Forget about the telephone and other distractions. Maintain eye contact to show that you really are with your child.
Encourage talking. Some children need an invitation to start talking. You might begin with, "Tell me about your day at school." Children are more likely to share their ideas and feelings when others think them important.
Listen patiently. People think faster than they speak. With limited vocabulary and experience in talking, children often take longer than adults do to find the right word. Listen as though you have plenty of time.
Hear children out. Avoid cutting children off before they have finished speaking. It's easy to form an opinion or reject children's views before they finish what they have to say. It may be difficult to listen respectfully and not correct misconceptions, but respect their right to have and express their opinions.
Listen to nonverbal messages. Many messages children send are communicated nonverbally by their tone of voice, their facial expressions, their energy level, their posture, or changes in their behavior patterns. You can often tell more from the way a child says something than from what is said. When a child comes in obviously upset, be sure to find a quiet time then or sometime that day to help explore those feelings.
Suggestions for Improving Communication
Be interested. Ask about your child's ideas and opinions regularly. If you show her that you're really interested in what she thinks and feels, and want to know what her opinions are, she will become comfortable about expressing her thoughts to you.
Avoid dead-end questions. Ask your child the kinds of questions that will extend interaction rather than cut it off. Questions that require a yes or no or right answer lead a conversation to a dead end. Questions that ask him to describe, explain, or share ideas prolong the conversation.
Extend conversation. Try to pick up a piece of your child's conversation. Respond to her statements by asking a question that restates or uses some of the same words she used. When you use your child's own phrasing or terms, you strengthen her confidence in her conversational and verbal skills and reassure her that her ideas are being listened to and valued.
Share your thoughts. Share what you are thinking with your child. For instance, if you are puzzling over how to rearrange your furniture, get your child involved with questions such as, "I'm not sure where to put this shelf. Where do you think would be a good place?"
Observe signs. Watch your child for signs that it's time to end a conversation. When he begins to stare into space, give silly responses, or ask you to repeat several of your comments, it's probably time to stop the exchange.
Reflect feelings. One of the most important skills of good listeners is the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes -- empathizing with the speaker by attempting to understand his thoughts and feelings. As a parent, try to mirror your child's feelings by repeating them. You might reflect her feelings by commenting, "It sounds as if you're angry with your math teacher." Restating or rephrasing what your child said is useful when she is experiencing powerful emotions that she may not be fully aware of.
Help clarify and relate experiences. As you listen, try to make your child's feelings clear by stating them in your own words. Your wider vocabulary can help him express himself as accurately and clearly as possible and give him a deeper understanding of words and inner thoughts.
Parents Are Key in Building Children's Communication Skills
Parents play an essential role in building children's communication skills because kids spend more time with their parents than with any other adult. Children also have a deeper involvement with their parents than with any other adult and the family as a unit has lifelong contact with its members. Parents control many of the contacts a child has with society, as well as society's contacts with the child.
Adults, parents, and teachers set a powerful example of good or poor communication. Communication skills are influenced by the examples children see and hear. Parents and teachers who listen to their children with interest, attention, and patience set a good example. The greatest audience children can have is an adult who is important to and interested in them.
Source: How Can Parents Model Good Listening Skills? National Parent Information Network