Parents, teachers, coaches,
neighbors---everyone talks at and to kids, sharing
advice, teaching lessons, offering warnings, giving
instructions--in short, telling them what to do. What they often
need, however, is someone who will listen, an adult who will
accept what they say as important, nodding, smiling, believing,
children is not easy for adults. Sometimes we cannot understand
their words, and usually we aren't sure what they mean. At other
times they seem to babble on about nothing specific, just seeming
to enjoy hearing themselves talk. It is important to give them
time and attention for this kind of communication, even though it
makes very little sense and meets very few of our needs. We must
beware, however, of falling into a "pretend listening"
pattern where we hear the sounds, but our mind is on a thousand
other thoughts and projects. If we always listen that way,
we will miss critical communication when it comes.
This does not mean
that you have to drop everything when they speak. If you are too
tired or in the middle of something, let them know that you would
rather not (or can't) talk now, but will as soon as you can.
Except in an emergency, never allow them to interrupt your
conversation with another person. It is more important to be real
and honest with them than to pretend that you are listening. But,
if you postpone your conversation, set up a definite time
to gel back together. Besides communicating the fact that you need
to have time to yourself or to do certain things, you will teach
them the importance of timing and politeness, and that you really
do care about what they have to say.
Be sensitive to your children's
talk. There are times when you must drop everything and listen
intently. At other times, they just want to be noticed and to be
heard--they just want to chatter.