Have you ever been in a conversation where you’ve felt ignored by someone who is distracted by another conversation, or worse yet, their darn phone? How does it make you feel? Pretty unimportant, I’d say. I’m sure you had the same experience as a child – it can really damage a kid’s self-esteem when they’re not listened to. That’s not to say you should interrupt your own conversation to meet the demands of your child, but when it’s their time to talk, really make the effort to listen to them.
5 stages of listening
Let’s get a bit techy and breakdown what real listening looks like…
- Receiving – stop what you’re doing and give eye contact
- Understanding – FOCUS!! (that means put down your phone and concentrate on what’s being said)
- Evaluating – Think about what has been said and what you think about it
- Remembering – Try hard to remember the key points of what has been said
- Responding – Ask a question to get more details, give your opinion, your take on the topic
Real life kid example
Ok, so that’s the techy side, let’s get practical with a kid example. ‘Tom’ has had the most amazing dream and he wants to tell you about it first thing in the morning with all its crazy details. Poor bleary-eyed mum takes a deep breath, focuses on her dear son and start the huge effort of listening…
- Receiving – stops making a coffee, sits down, holds her son’s hand (perhaps – if he’s not acting out what happened!) and looks him in the eye
- Understanding – Mum then listens to every word, trying super-hard to take it all in – the twists and turns of this action-packed dream
- Evaluating – Mum thinks about each part of the dream and about how it may have made her son feel
- Remembering – Good old mum picks out a few main events in the dream, tries to remember what order they happened in
- Responding – Now it’s time to show off the awesome listening skills by asking probing questions – perhaps who, what, where, why, when! Mum watches her son’s eyes light up, his mouth curl up in a smile because he feels valued because his mum has listened to him.
When it’s ok not to listen
We all have those moments when our kid is tugging on our sleeve, wanting our attention while we’re deep in conversation with another adult. Is this the time to listen to a long story about our kid’s day? No. Respect goes both ways and by showing our kids that in the appropriate moments, we’re happy to really listen to them, they need to respect that we need to listen to other people as well. This may mean they have to wait for our attention. Or they may need to put a mental bookmark in to tell us about some long story later.
A great way to show your child that you’re acknowledging them without interrupting an adult conversation is to put your hand on their hand. In this way, they’ll know that you’ve are aware of their needs without being rude to your friend. It’s great for kids to learn to wait for their turn to talk. Kids will learn to be a good listener if you model it, even if it means they have to wait for your attention. It’s another way boundaries are important because it teaches them how to be respectful and great listeners which is so valuable.
In a nutshell
Listening isn’t easy! Let’s face it, some stories told by kids and adults can be pretty long and boring, so you’re not going to get it right all the time and that’s ok! It’s hard to fake interest but find something you think is a little bit interesting and you’ll be able to give authentic feedback. Listening is a generous thing to do and will often have its rewards because your relationships will be deeper, people will love spending time with you and, hey, maybe you’ll learn something!