Recently I did standardized testing for my eight-year-old, homeschooled granddaughter. One section of the test was on listening skills. I read Abby a passage, and then she was to answer questions from it without me reading it to her again. She had to recall facts and make deductions from the information. As young as eight years old, the public educational system sees the value in being able to listen.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Here we see that listening comes before speaking and actually has urgency applied to it. Communication isn’t simply being able to talk, but also listening in order to reply based on understanding. Listening often conveys value to the person who is talking, and that is of paramount importance for a Christian.
If we want our children to be excellent communicators, then we will be developing their listening skills. At the most basic level, listening involves being able to repeat what was said. A more advanced listener will understand the exact words, and the heart communication behind those words.
How can we help children learn to listen? First, it is important to have them make eye contact with you or anyone who is talking to them. Many children we interact with don’t make eye contact in a conversation and that often carries into adulthood. Eye contact helps to secure the focus needed for attentive listening, and it conveys to the speaker that he is being heard. Keep bringing your child back to looking at you when you are talking to him.
We parents set the example for our children in listening attentively with eye contact. If we are looking at our phones, computers, books, or anywhere except the child’s eyes when he is talking to us, then we are teaching him that listening can be done half-heartedly. I have regularly heard someone texting or reading e-mail say, “I am listening,” only to have it obvious a few minutes later that the person does not have the communication that was being given. He might have heard words, but he wasn’t able to process or retain them.
To help develop listening skills, we can have the child repeat back to us in their own words what they understood. This step takes time and isn’t necessary in every conversation. It is particularly important, however, in the ones where the child is responsible for the information, such as when he is given a task to do or told not to do something. I remember from raising our children how frequently I felt I was clear in my communication to them only to find out later they either didn’t hear at all or misunderstood. That result occurred because I didn’t take time to have them repeat back to me what I had said.
We can also ask our children questions about what I have shared with them in a conversation. Depending on the questions, we cause them not only to recall what they have heard but also to process it by drawing conclusions. We might even get them to consider heart attitudes that are behind the actual words.
We want our children to grow up with the ability to listen to others. In our normal, everyday life we help them toward that by how we model listening, teaching them to make eye contact when listening, having them repeat what we have said or asking them questions about it. This doesn’t have to be tedious or difficult, but it will help if you make it a focus and priority.
Last month, I shared that our resource, Making Great Conversationalists, would help in preparing your children to be effective communicators. By your response in ordering that book, we see again how needed it is. Please, if you haven’t already, order your copy. Teaching your children good communication and listening skills is vital to their success in life!