June 2000 - Volume 3 - Issue 4
There's some recent research about the simple act of listening with our families that I find pretty frightening. The first study found that the average family spends just 30 seconds a day actually listening to their children. Another study from the Children's Defense Fund found that 20% of 6th to 12th graders hadn't had a 10-minute conversation with a parent in over a month.
I thought I talked to my kids a lot more than that national average, but I quickly realized the emphasis was on my TALKING, not my listening. Listening seems like it ought to be one of the easiest things to do, but I realize that most times when I acted like I was listening I really wasn't.
Except while driving in the car, we know eye contact is an important first step in listening. But, even if we maintain steady eye contact with someone, we're still not really listening until we actually hear what he or she is saying. I didn't even have the steady eye contact handled because I was doing the dishes or reading the paper or still typing at my computer while my girls were talking to me. A portable phone made it even easier to be doing something else when I called them.
Truly listening means listening until the person is finished, paying attention to their nonverbal clues, and most importantly, not planning your response until the other person is finished talking. All too often our listening to children means responses filled with advice, mini-lectures, moralizing or arguing with what they have to say. What kind of a message do we leave with our children when we always have a better idea? Research has shown that you have a far greater impact on people by now you listen than by what you say. We give such life-enhancing gifts to our children when we take the time to truly listen.
We validate their feelings. How real can children feel if it seems that we never hear them? What kind of messages are they getting when responses to their statements go like this?
We enhance their self-esteem. When we truly listen we're acknowledging that they have something important to say, and that we value their opinion.
We encourage their problem-solving skills as we hear out their solutions to an issue. We foster their creativity as we let them recreate a scene.
We all know that if we're not listening, our children simply stop talking to us beyond asking for the gravy or to find out where the TV remote is. One of the best ways to get them talking again is to ask forward focus questions discussed in some of the other articles in this series. And then to truly listen to their answers, even if only for a few minutes each day. It's a powerful tool to bring joy and closeness to our families.
It's the major complaint of people from dysfunctional families - they were never allowed to have real feelings. They grew up distrusting their own sense of the world and themselves.
Other Parenting Tools by Steven Vannoy featured in PresidioNews: Messages
For further information about this Listening tool and how to use it with children of all ages, see Chapter 3 and 4 of "The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children," By Steven Vannoy.
Reprinted by permission of : 10 Greatest Gifts Project, P.O.Box 1140 Morrison, CO 80465