Learning requires the ability to listen. Children who hear well not only develop strong language skills, but they also find learning in any subject to be easier, less stressful, and more successful. Because attentive listeners maintain the majority of what they hear in class, they do not need to study as much (a big plus, especially in middle and high school).
The newborn is a natural listener. In fact, the auditory system of a newborn baby is the most formed of all sensory systems. Hearing may be slightly affected by fluid in the baby’s inner ear, but she’ll work around it in her willingness to engage. Infants can hear their parents’ voices from the womb and are extremely motivated to do so. Their survival is largely dependent on their ability to listen and learn to communicate their requirements. So, what happens in the years between birth and kindergarten?
The answer is ambiguous, but here are some strategies for ensuring the development of healthy auditory skills…
1. Tell babies before you pick them up:
This is clearly the most important and profoundly beneficial advice, but it remains difficult for new parents. Because saying “Now I’m going to pick you up” to someone who won’t be able to talk back for a long time feels strange, awkward, and a little disappointing (especially in front of other adults). However, once it becomes a habit, it seems strange not to do it. And it’s a habit that’s well worth developing. It is not only polite and courteous – because it teaches babies that we think they are important enough to know what is going on – but it also motivates attentive listening. Furthermore, because these words are important to the child, it is the most natural and smartest way for babies to learn language.
2. Meaningful dialogue:
Babies, in general, enjoy being talked to, sung to, or otherwise receive our undivided attention. They are particularly encouraged to listen when we concentrate our conversation on valuable, pertinent topics such as where babies are, what is going on with their bodies, what they are touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and so on. And don’t skimp on the details — they want to hear and understand everything.
However, this does not imply that we must ramble or provide a running commentary on our every thought…
3. Create a peaceful atmosphere:
A calm environment encourages babies to tune in, whereas excessive auditory stimulation has the inverse result. Babies are extremely sensitive and can be easily overwhelmed.
4. Talk slowly and respectfully:
When we talk slowly enough for babies to understand, we motivate them to listen. Babies can tell when they’re being talked down to. They are more likely to listen if they know we take them as seriously as they do.
5. Acknowledge sounds:
Recognize and describe the sounds, especially if you suspect your baby has heard the dog barking or the garbage truck, saying things like, “That dog barked loudly, didn’t he?” The child learns that other types of sounds, in addition to words, have meaning.
6. Minimize exposure to back end conversations.
Regular exposure to one-sided interactions that a baby cannot understand is also discouraging. When possible, make phone calls while the baby is sleeping or out of earshot.
7. Get closer:
Bring yourself down to the child’s level. Make direct eye contact. Hold a child’s hand or sit next to him. Use your body language to show a child that you are interested in what he has to say.
8. Hear it, don’t just fix it:
To demonstrate that you are listening to a child, use listening skills such as repeating and rephrasing. Don’t rush to solve all of the problems or tell a child what she should have done. Active listening not only assists children in processing their own experiences and resolving their own problems, but it also communicates that you are interested in what they think and have to say, rather than taking over.
9. Feelings are never wrong:
Validate the feelings that children express, even if you disagree with the outcome. Avoid phrases like “You shouldn’t be scared” or “You can’t really be sad” because they send a clear message that you don’t want them to be honest about their feelings. Rather, relate and then share thoughts that may help put things into context.
10. Create everyday spaces for routine conversation:
We can’t expect children to come to us with deep questions and difficult problems unless we’ve established a culture of everyday conversations. Regular conversations, whether at bedtime or over an afternoon snack, establish a trusting precedent. Trust is an essential component of communication, and it cannot be summoned in times of crisis. It must be constructed over time.
11. Ask for their thoughts:
Asking for input communicates to children that you value their opinions. As stated in the previous point, this is not a tool to be saved for a time of crisis. Set a consistent example by asking children’s opinions on everything, from what they think will happen next in a story to what they think should be done with a vacant lot.
12. Share interests:
Nobody wants to talk about something they believe their audience is uninterested in. Take a special interest in what your children are interested in. This aims to foster a common dialogue and encourages lighthearted, non-threatening conversations.
13. Listen to what they’re NOT saying:
Listening entails more than just hearing what is said. It is being aware of one’s own body language, tone, attitude, and behaviors.
14. Learn from watching others:
Analyzing other parents and teachers can help you learn a lot. Whether it’s a good mentor you want to emulate or a perfect demonstration of what not to do, watching other people in action can make you more aware of your own attitudes and actions.
15. Use “no” sparingly:
When our words have something to offer him… a description, an explanation, something that assists him learn and understand… our child is motivated to listen to them. Sometimes, without a doubt, that word is “no.” However, there are times when we can express our displeasure in a more direct manner.
16. Tell stories, play music and/or sing, listen to stories on CD, read books:
These actions not only promote active listening, but they also promote creativity because children create their own mental images for the words or sounds.