Most daily interactions involve listening. Having an ability to listen is an essential life skill. But are we actually listening to each other? What exactly is listening?
Listening means "to hear something with thoughtful attention". It means understanding what is being heard.
It is a craft that needs to be learned and this takes time, focus and effort.
Listening is one of the four skills of language learning (along with speaking, reading and writing).
You can help your child’s listening skills every day. Here's how:
- Ensure you have a focussed one-on-one conversation at least twice a day with your child. Listen carefully and actively – ask open ended questions like “tell me about …” “tell me more …” and let the child lead the conversation. Don't interrupt and do leave long pauses during the conversation for both of you to contemplate what has been said. Children take longer to process their thoughts than adults do - create the space for them to think without having to rush.
- Teach your child what sounds to tune in and which to tune out. If you stand in one spot and listen carefully you will most likely notice about fifteen different sounds. We’re not born with the ability to automatically prioritise everything we hear. That distant look on your toddler’s face is probably them focussing on the hum of the dryer! Help your child learn what each sound is by listening to it in isolation and explaining what it is. Give the child the language they need to name and describe what they're hearing. Here's where the eardrops stories can help because each featured sound is heard clearly, without distractions, and is described using simple language.
- ‘Active listening’ is a technique where you paraphrase and repeat back what you’ve just heard. This clarifies you’ve heard correctly and clearly illustrates that you understand. More on active listening here.
Humans have a basic need to be listened to – in order to take in information, be involved, and feel part of a family group. Real communication is the key to successful relationships and being able to understand what you hear and see is a vital component of communication. Meaningful conversations soon finish if one party isn’t paying attention! And for the one not being listened to over time there is a measurable effect on self esteem.
I found that the preschool dropoff became a treat rather than a stress when I kept it quiet - no radio, no clutter of background noise. This created an opportunity to create precious high quality minutes with my child. He lead most of the conversations and was often happy to open up and tell me about most things in this quiet environment. This wasn't all about ‘deep and meaningfuls’, sometimes we played a listening version of ‘I spy’ - ‘I hear with my little ears’ – and he regularly stumped me! We both felt rewarded for our efforts and more centred as a result of this time together; ready for our busy days.
In a world surrounded by visual stimulus its easy to forget our ears. The first three years are vital to a child’s development because the brain takes in information at a faster rate than at any other time in our lives.
Start training your child to listen as early as you can - it can be fun!
- Try these simple listening games with your child.
- Hear what Julian Treasure says about listening in his Ted Talk video.
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