Yesterday, at our morning family Bible study, I sent no less than eight kids back to bed. One by one, I asked them a simple question about a quick devotional I had read, and every one of them looked at me like a deer in the headlights. Clueless. Had not heard a word I had said. Frustrated and unable to come up with any other brilliant idea on the fly, I sent them to their beds until they were ready to listen. Which, as it turns out, worked to my advantage because I got to finish my coffee in quiet.
I tell you this little vignette so that you remember, it is not only important to teach your child to speak up, speak out, and interact well socially, but you gotta teach them to LISTEN.
Oh sure, they hear you…but are they LISTENING?
Understanding the difference between hearing and listening is important. When a child hears someone, they may keep on going in their own little world, but they do not respond. The worst form of not listening, in my book, is when a child is looking at you, hearing you, but you can see in their eyes that they are not truly listening, they are just busy formulating their argument.
Just because a kid can hear, LISTENING may well be a skill that takes years to perfect. I have found several things helpful. Sometimes I ask questions mid-conversation. I may have them repeat back to me instructions in their own words. I have also had them write out what a conversation (especially if it is about something very important and I want to make sure they understand) was about to make sure they understood what I was saying, what my motivation was for bringing it up, and what my intention is that they should learn.
Oh and the WORST is when one a child DOES listen, can repeat every word said, but does it all the while they are NOT looking at me, busy drawing, or continue on in their task. This leaves the speaker (me, usually) deeply annoyed because while they heard me, as the message bearer, I feel discontent, disrespected, unheard. To this child, we have to teach them that even if they DID hear every word, and can repeat back the entire conversation, if as the speaker I felt ignored, fully one half of the conversation was dissatisfying. Here, we don’t have to teach the child to listen, because their ears and mind are quite sharp, but we have to teach them how to SHOW the other person they are listening. Role playing helps…let them try and converse or tell you something important, while you go about drawing or busily continuing in your work. They get the picture real quick.
To be clear, a person is listening (not just hearing) when they engage with their eyes, turn their physical body toward the speaker (all the way down to their feet…feet turning away from the speaker generally means “I don’t want to listen to you” or “I am done with you”), and gives some sort of feedback to imply they understand what was said. We may begin to work on listening skills as early as three or four, but realize, this is a LONG process. We may be working on this for better than a decade. But there is surely no more necessary tool for a successful marriage than solid listening skills. It is a hill well worth dying on.