He walked past our house twice a day. He was a businessman who rode the commuter train to Chicago. He always smiled and said hello as he passed. One day he stopped. Pointing to our infant son in the stroller he said to me, “It is very important that you always talk to him. And never use gibberish or baby talk. He needs to hear you speaking clearly and correctly. He will learn to talk from listening to you. Good day.” That is the only conversation I recall having with that neighbor. I don’t know if he was a father or perhaps a grandfather. I appreciated his wisdom. He made a lasting impression on me. That baby in the stroller is now a 38 year old father of four.
It often seems that expectant or new moms wear a sign. It says “WANTED: Unsolicited Advice.” Unsolicited advice is freely given from family, friends, and even complete strangers. Be gracious as you listen and be discerning. It may be useless information, but some of it may be very helpful. Anyone may know a better way to do something.
Talking and listening are important skills in parenting. Children must learn to do both and you are their primary teacher. Talk to your infants all day long. Tell them what you are doing as you do it. Tell them about the objects in your/their environment. Talk about everything and anything. They are always listening! By the time they reach the age of three they will be doing lots of questioning. This is all part of the learning process. Try to be patient as the majority of their questions will begin with the word, why.
Here are a few ideas for teaching your children to be attentive listeners:
- Ask your child to look at your while you are talking to them.
- Be clear and direct so that there is less opportunity for misunderstanding. Most young children do not understand subtlety.
- Ask them if they understand what you have said and maybe to repeat any given instructions.
- Young children need to be told one thing at a time. As they age they can manage a list of instructions.
- Clearly define the time expectation connected to any order or requested action with words such as; now, soon, today, after, tomorrow….
Learn to attentively listen to your child. Pay attention to their choice of words, tone, body language and facial expression. Ask clarifying questions. Do not be critical or condemning. This can shut down communication. Two of my children were very sensitive to what they perceived as a loud or angry voice. Sometimes I had to whisper to prevent them from completely shutting me out. Each child’s temperament is different.
Ask your child not only about their interests, desires and needs but also engage your child in age appropriate conversations about things outside of their typical sphere. Ask their opinions. Commend their ideas and strategies. Question how they feel or what they think about a topic or a specific problem. Request their suggestions when you are facing a difficulty. You may be amazed at their thinking and suggestions. They can learn to problem solve and even compromise. These types of exercises engage and expand the mind. They are also developing incredible communication skills, which will make them a better spouse, parent and employee.
As our children grow into teens and young adults our conversations with them become more vital not less. The topics of conversations may change but conversing needs to happen every day. Parents need to listen to their children and children need to listen to their parents. Smartphones and technology may be a distraction from truly listening to each other in the way their grandparents did with us.
I encourage you to think about who you have really listened to today. Were you genuine? Did you have a phone in your hand? Did you make eye contact? Did the person talking to you walk away frustrated? Listening is an important skill we can continue to improve upon, even as adults.