Commandment 1 of Rights-Based Communication with Children: Listen Attentively

It is common for adults not to listen to children. In most cases when we do them the ‘favour’ of listening, we do not listen attentively.

We do not listen to children because of what I call our ‘superiority complex’ as adults. We somehow, by our socialisation believe that childhood means mental disability. We see children as a crop of pitiable folks, who have nothing meaningful to pass across. We ignorantly equate childhood with foolishness, weakness and irresponsibility and treat our children so. We fail to understand that children are in a phase of development, which demands our active contribution to reach a state of maturity. We lack the three inevitable ingredients or attributes, which will make us work effectively with children, namely, knowledge, skill and attitude.

Whether we initiate a discussion or our children do, our disposition is the same. When they initiate a discussion, we believe we already know what they want to say. When we initiate a discussion, we already programmed what to say and how to say it without any plan for their responses. In most cases, we label the expression of their desire to be heard, being rude.

It is established that we cannot to help the child without listening to the child. An Ondo proverb says, ‘you do not shave a man’s head behind him.’ Children have so much to say about their state of affairs and the earlier we cultivate the habit of listening to them the better for us and them together. We miss out on how their mind is working and how we can be of genuine help to them when we play the know-it-all kings in their lives. Unfortunately, the children know we do not know it all. They have seen us goofed a couple to times. They wonder, if we know as much as we claim, how come they sometimes know what we do not know.

Now, what does it mean to listen attentively? It is to listen with keen interest and courtesy, which is very clear and observable by the person, we are holding a conversation with. It is to listen with empathy and concern. Children interpret love as attention and acceptance. When we listen attentively, we give undivided attention and children receive that as love.

David Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under President John F. Kennedy gave an unusual insight into how to best persuade others thus, ‘one of the best ways to persuade others is by listening to them.’ Most times we believe we can persuade our children by doing all the talking, but now, we are being told that listening to them does the job of persuasion. I remember the story told by Ed Cole about a child, who was said to be very stubborn, wayward and withdrawn and was brought to Ed Cole. Ed Cole recommended a simple solution: Go and listen to your child for the whole weekend. Do not say anything to him. Just listen. The father came back after adhering to the instruction, rejoicing. Their so-called stubborn, wayward and withdrawn child had come alive.

The logic is very clear. For the first time the parents demonstrated to the child that he is part of the solution to his situation and not part of the problem. They demonstrated to him that he has something to say that will lead them to a solution. They invested in his self-esteem. You know a lot of times, when we have issues with our children; we do not treat them as part of the solution. We permanently see them as part of the problem. We are so angry with their deeds or misdeeds that we define them by same and shut them out and talk to everybody about solutions except them.

There is no better way to build a child’s self-esteem than to listen to them and let them know that their opinions count.  John Maxwell, a world renowned leadership expert, who has a vision to equip ten million in his lifetime, says his mother had a great impact in his life. She was a ‘compassionate listener,’ he explains, which in turn ‘fostered in me a great sense of security and self-esteem.’

In conclusion, let me share with us the four basic rules of listening:

  1. Listening through: Choose to listen through
  2. Avoid the number one temptation of all conversations:  Do not interrupt even when you are tempted to
  3. Maintain total focus and attention: Maintain a focus, particularly through eye to eye contact.
  4. Be conscious of your body language: We may not need to nod excessively. This may give us away easily. We may not also need to show disapproval so quickly. We may affect the psychology of the child. There is way we may rubbish the listening process by either a hostile body language or excessive show of approval. Be calm, cool, collected and disciplined.

I think I should sign out here. Thank you for visiting today. Sure you learnt one or two things on how to Think the CHILD…Think TODAY and Think the FUTURE.


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