Caught or Taught? Listening Skills

"More is caught than taught" expresses the idea that our children often learn more from our actions than from what we say.

Are listening Skills Caught or Taught?

Children tend to copy our habits, our way of speaking, and our methods of doing things for many reasons, so there is some truth in the cliché. "Do as I say and not as I do" has never been a recipe for parenting success.

For the homeschooling parent who is with their child more often than not, the idea that our kids will learn as much from us as from textbooks can be intimidating. We hope that they will copy our better character traits, but we know that our faults are also on display, and human nature pretty much assures us that our children will mimic some of our less attractive behaviors.

This is why homeschooling is just as educational for the parent as it is for the child. As someone who grew up in public and private schools, I tended to think of school as a specific period of time in a specific place, set aside for learning. After school was when you had fun!

But one of the first things I learned as a homeschool mom was that my education didn't end when I graduated. Homeschooling brought this truth into sharper focus as I realized my knowledge and skill sets came more from the things I'd learned on my own because of need or personal interest.

As a result, I started thinking about how I could bring a balance of "caught and taught" to my children's lives. Good character and effective learning skills are both caught and taught. Our children look to us as examples of educated adults with solid teaching and learning skills. 

So let's talk about listening.

Have you ever been preoccupied, knowing in some dim corner of your brain that your kids are talking to you, but you respond with "Uh-huh" and "Yeah" until you realize they just asked for trash bags so they could parachute off the garage roof?

Not good.

Listening is an essential skill. It's not just about submission to authority, such as parents and teachers. Listening requires such elements as focus, self-control, patience, humility, and civility. We shouldn't just demand that our kids listen to us. We must model good listening behaviors, and help them internalize listening as a skill. 

Here are some helpful exercises that will assist our children (and ourselves) in learning to listen:

  • Get rid of the clutter. Visual distractions and background noise can interfere with a child's ability to focus, especially when they are little. Turn off radios, televisions, and other sources of audio/visual chatter. 
  • Eye contact. Engage your child's heart and mind by making eye contact with them when you are speaking to them, and they to you. Especially when they are speaking to you.
  • Keep it short. Simple sentences with specific information and commands will assist your child in understanding exactly what is expected of them. Don't weigh them down with lectures and lists. Even if you have several tasks you'd like them to accomplish, dole them out in small batches in accordance to their ability.
  • Make sure your speech and expectations are reasonable and age-appropriate. For instance, most parents expect their children to pick up their toys. However--is there adequate storage for their belongings, and is it labeled clearly with words or pictures so that there is no doubt that they understand where their toys belong?

For every chore/responsibility you assign to your child, try following this process: 

1) Demonstrate it.

2) Have them assist you.

3) Step back to observe, and assist if needed.

4) Watch them do it on their own.

  • Repetition. Ask your child to repeat what you've said. You will know whether they've heard and understood, and they will realize the need to pay attention when you are speaking. If they seem to have lost track or gotten distracted, remind them of their responsibility in a non-accusatory manner. "Do you need help reaching your Lego box?" or "Do you remember where your doll's clothes go?" addresses the issue and redirects them.
  • Appropriate consequences for non-compliance. If they do not complete a task, such as picking up their toys, maybe they should lose the privilege of playing with them for a specific length of time. Natural consequences are often better teachers than relying on time-outs, lectures, or spanking. Also, it is important to always follow through, and never make exaggerated, exasperate threats. After all, they are not going to learn self-control if you are constantly losing yours.
  • Teaching and training, especially with young children, can be fun. Simple games like Simon Says, Hot and Cold, 20 Questions, Mother May I, Red Light/Green Light, and I Spy help children develop listening and thinking skills. There are few things more enjoyable than the bonding that takes place when experiencing the pleasure of having fun with your child.

We should model the behavior we expect, but we should also give our children the tools they need to accomplish what we expect of them. The result will be young adults who are equipped to better deal with the world around them and to minister to others in a meaningful way.

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