Listening is a Social Skill
We’ve heard over and over how important it is to listen, by which we mean “hear what someone just said.” And frequently I’ve heard parents say, “(My child) just doesn’t listen,” usually meaning “not doing what I said to do.” Consider: our very young children are very keen listeners and know that listening to what we say is critical to their sense of relatedness, of being loved - whether they look like they are listening or not. And especially in their younger years. Soon they might learn that acting as if they are “not listening” is a great (i.e., “acceptable”) excuse for not doing what mommy or daddy wants them to do.
Listening is so much more than hearing what is said. It is learning to know what to act on, what to ignore, and how to pretend to listen, among other things. You and I, parents, have a big influence whether our children are listening with openness and full of possibility, or whether it is something needing to be carefully managed.
I’m suggesting that taking more time to sit and listen - no matter what your child has to say - is one of the most well-spent times that you can have - maximize its value:
Make eye contact at eye level, scoot up close. Pause when your eyes connect. That will eliminate pretending to listen. When it doesn’t work for you to stop your own thinking and truly listen, say so: “It doesn’t work for me to listen right now as I am (getting dinner ready, going to the store, shutting off the main water valve because the basement is flooding, etc.). I will let you know when I am ready.” Then do that. When you are ready, get that eye contact and say, “I’m ready to listen …” Then, when your child speaks, just listen - no correcting, no coaching, no judgment … listen as if what is being said is the most important thing you’ll ever hear. It is - always. And remember, that small partner is paying attention to how you say and do what you say and do, including how you listen.