Listening: A learned skill

Listening, a learned skill

Most daily interactions involve listening. Real communication is the key to successful relationships and listening is a vital component. 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.

Having an ability to listen is an essential life skill, but how much are we really listening? Humans have a basic need to be listened to – to take in information, feel involved, be part of a family. Listening is a craft that needs to be learned, it takes time and effort to develop better listening skills.

You can help your grandchild’s listening skills every day. It only takes a few minutes to have a conversation to boosts their esteem or get a worry off their chest. ‘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.

Listen carefully and actively – ask open ended questions like “tell me about …” “tell me more …” and let him or her lead the conversation. I found the school morning drop-off became a treat rather than a stress, when I changed the approach – no radio, no clutter of background noise. It became a great chance to have ten quality minutes with my child. He leads the conversation and is happy to open up and tell me about most things in this environment. It’s not all about ‘deep and meaningfuls’, sometimes we play a listening version of ‘I spy’ – ‘I hear with my little ears’ – and he regularly stumps me. When we get to school we both feel rewarded for our efforts and more centred; ready for our busy days.

Language is built from four foundations. Motivation (the need to speak), actual speech, hearing and listening.

Another skill we learn via listening is what sounds to tune in and which to tune out. Although we’re born with ears we’re not born with the ability to automatically prioritise all the noise. Stand in one spot and listen carefully. You will notice about fifteen different sounds. That distant look on a toddler’s face is probably them focussing on the distant hum of the dryer! Help your grandchild first learn what they are then prioritise between them by isolating each sound and explaining what they do.

In a world surrounded by visual stimulus it’s easy to forget our ears.

New Zealand’s rich storytelling traditions are in danger of being lost in amongst visual media for children. Start training your grandchild to listen as early as you can because the first three years are vital to a child’s development. Make it enjoyable – and do it often.

Courtesy of Liz Donnelly.