Inside: When it comes to listening, there are six mistakes that almost all moms make from time to time. But don’t despair; read on for six strategies to get it right.
“And that was that!” My daughter concluded her story.
I deeply care about what my daughter has to say, but I must have tuned out because I had no idea what she was talking about.
The next day, just as I finished giving my teenage son instructions on what to do while I was away, I looked into his eyes and realized that he wasn’t listening.
It’s an epidemic.
According to modern research, we are all very bad at listening. In my case, I can’t even blame technology. I perfected the art of not listening when I was in elementary school. I would sit with my back straight, gazing intently at my teacher while making up stories in my head and not hearing a word said.
“Why can’t you all be such good listeners as Eva,” I heard more than once during my school years. Haha, and the gold medal for the Olympic sport of pretend listening goes to Eva! Right? Well maybe… but there were consequences.
And that’s why this year I decided it was time to roll up my sleeves and do some research on the intricate art of good listening: what it is and how to get better at it.
Hearing but Not Listening
All your life, you’ve probably heard the words listening and hearing used interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. Hearing is a physiological process of processing sounds in our environment; we can’t help it. Listening, on the other hand, is a voluntary act of will. You have to choose to do it.
The good news is that you can learn to do it better and teach your kids too.
It turns out that when it comes to listening, there are six mistakes that almost all moms make from time to time. But don’t despair! Read on for six strategies to do it right, and to print the infographic.
Six Listening Mistakes Moms Make
We model behavior we don’t want to see
How many times have you tuned out your garrulous toddler or preschooler? Or switch your brain to autopilot the moment your kindergartner exclaims, “Guess what, mom!?” Or sat with your eyes glazed from boredom as your middle schooler narrates, “…. and then Ana said … and I said...” But then you get mad when your kid reacts the same way and tunes you out when you have something important to say? They’re just natural learners, and you’re their model.
We assume we know what is going to be said. And we are probably right. When you walk on two kids in a fight, you know what they are going to tell you, “She hit me first. He was teasing me.” “Yeah-yeah,” you interrupt, “I’ve heard that before.”
Well, do you think your kid didn’t hear you say they needed to clean up their toys before? If you dismiss what you think you’ve heard before, so will they, and you’ll find yourself endlessly repeating the same instructions or advice. It really does go both ways. Sorry, but they don’t think your words are more important than their words.
We don’t allow for their angst
Even if your children are generally happy and well-adjusted, don’t underestimate how many things they have on their minds that they need to talk about. I’m so misunderstood, my brother is a pest, school is stressful, the cat didn’t want to cuddle, and what’s life anyway.
But most of the time, our schedules are packed with things we need to do, and we simply don’t have time to calmly sit, focus on this one thing, and allow our kids the possibility to let it all out. It’s not a bad thing to need to purge that angst. It just means they’re alive, and life is just tough sometimes, even when everything is ok.
We ignore the message
People (and our kids) often communicate to make us aware of their needs, even though it comes out as yet another complaint. “My shoe hurts, my room is too dark, I’m bored, my brother is annoying.” You’re fine, you say. You can handle it.
Researchers tell us that that’s exactly the kind of response that makes kids feel like they were not heard. So they feel like they need to scale up their complaining to make you really pay attention, which of course, makes you want to ignore what they are saying even more. Our failure to listen to a whisper makes them want to scream!
We don’t put any effort into listening
An average American is exposed to 4 to 10 thousand advertisements per day. Wow. That’s a lot. In order not to grow crazy, we learned (and perfected) the art of not listening. As a result, our attention span is shrinking by the second, and we don’t even notice.
Active listening means that we make a concerted effort to engage with the speaker (that’s your child) fully. Don’t think though that because listening is hard, you’re a bad parent. You’re just a person being overloaded with information, so you need to pick and choose what’s worth listening to.
We get too emotional
When we start reacting with emotions to what’s being said (judging, advising, jumping to conclusions, etc.), we are not listening anymore. We’re already thinking about what wise things we are going to say next. But that’s not wisdom. It just creates more distance between you and your child.
6 strategies to improve listening in your home
1. Play Listening Games
Play listening games like The Telephone and Simon Says, or blindfold games like Minefield Walking (note: we have a whole list of blindfold activities). To play Telephone, whisper something to the kid next to you (Mean monkey stole my bananas. Charlie Chops never farts.), and then they whisper the message to the next person, and the next, until the last kid says it out loud. Did the message change? It sounds silly, but it’s a good lesson in just how quickly things get distorted, and just how little we might remember of what a person actually said.
2. Model Active Listening
Model active listening without judgment. Instead, practice strong eye contact, a genuinely warm smile, listening sounds (uh-ha), and paraphrasing.
3. Read Picture Books About Listening
Read picture books about listening. It’s a great way to remind ourselves and teach our kids important things about listening.
4. Go for a Listening Walk
Go for a listening walk and try to identify the sounds (wind, water, barking dog, sirens, screams, conversation, buzzing bees).
5. Practice Prepare for Landing Technique
When you catch yourself thinking, I already know all about it. It’s wrong /boring/ bad. Nothing can be learned here, try the Prepare for Landing technique (I made it up after landing at our vacation destination one year). When we are ready to get off the plane at a new destination, we open ourselves to discovery, to talking to strangers, to learning the unexpected. How is your thinking going to change when you say to yourself, “I’m preparing for landing. What can I learn here? How can I keep an open mind in this situation? What’s one angle of this situation that I didn’t consider before?”Give it a try, it really revolutionized the way I think in some situations.
6. Do Activities that Boost Attention and Focus
When we practice not listening, our children echo what we do. Nobody is perfect, of course, but simple strategies can help us break bad habits. In particular, there are six mistakes many moms make that can be avoided if only we become aware of them.
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