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Becoming a Better Listener

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Carl Smith, Director, ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills, gives the following advice for helping you and your child become better listeners.

· Be interested and attentiveChildren can tell whether they have a parent’s interest and attention by the way the parent replies or does not reply. Forget about the telephone and other distractions. Maintain eye contact to show that you really are with the child.

· Encourage talking. Some children need an invitation to start talking. Children are more likely to share their ideas and feelings when others think them important.

· Listen patientlyPeople think faster than they speak. Children often take longer than adults to find the right word. Listen as though you have plenty of time.

· Hear children outAvoid cutting children off before they have finished speaking. It is easy to form an opinion or reject children’s views before they finish what they have to say. It may be difficult to listen respectfully and not correct misconceptions, but respect their right to have and express their opinions.

· Listen to nonverbal messages. Many messages children send are communicated nonverbally by their tone of voice, their facial expressions, their energy level, their posture, or changes in their behavior patterns. You can often tell more from the way a child says something than from what is said. When a child comes in obviously upset, be sure to find a quiet time then or sometime later.

Suggestions for Improving Communication With Children

· Avoid dead-end questions. Ask children the kinds of questions that will extend interaction rather than cut it off. Questions that require a yes or no or right answer lead a conversation to a dead end. Questions that ask children to describe, explain, or share ideas extend the conversation.

· Extend conversation. Try to pick up a piece of your child’s conversation. Respond to his or her statements by asking a question that restates or uses some of the same words your child used. When you use children’s own phrasing or terms, you strengthen their confidence in their conversational and verbal skills and reassure them that their ideas are being listened to and valued.

· Share your thoughts. Share what you are thinking with your child. For instance, if you are puzzling over how to rearrange your furniture, get your child involved with questions such as, “I’m not sure where to put this shelf. Where do you think would be a good place?”

· Observe signs. Watch the child for signs that it is time to end a conversation. When a child begins to stare into space, give silly responses, or ask you to repeat several of your comments, it is probably time to stop the exchange.

· Reflect feelings. One of the most important skills good listeners have is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others or empathize with the speaker by attempting to understand his or her thoughts and feelings. As a parent, try to mirror your children’s feelings by repeating them.  You might reflect a child’s feelings by commenting, “It sounds as if you’re angry at your math teacher.” Restating or rephrasing what children have said is useful when they are experiencing powerful emotions that they may not be fully aware of.

· Help clarify and relate experiences. As you listen, try to make your child’s feelings clear by stating them in your own words. Your wider vocabulary can help children express themselves as accurately and clearly as possible and give them a deeper understanding of words and inner thoughts.

Why Are Parents Important In Building Children’s Communication Skills?

Parents play an essential role in building children’s communication skills because children spend more time with their parents than with any other adult. Children also have a deeper involvement with their parents than with any other adult, and the family as a unit has lifelong contact with its members. Parents control many of the contacts a child has with society as well as society’s contacts with the child.

Adults, parents, and teachers set a powerful example of good or poor communication. Communication skills are influenced by the examples children see and hear. Parents and teachers who listen to their children with interest, attention, and patience set a good example.

The greatest audience children can have is an adult who is important to them and interested in them.

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and is passionate to equip premarital and married couples with the knowledge, skills and insights necessary to enjoy a lifetime together.


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