Teaching Children To Listen Mindfully

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By Tracey Matthews Wynter, Supervisor of the Knox County Schools Family and Community Engagement Department

“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival–to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

– Stephen Covey

Whew!  That’s a lot to swallow, so let’s zoom our lens on the importance of teaching our children how to truly and sincerely listen.  It is extremely important to first learn how to listen so that we can then affirm, validate, and show appreciation of others.  We’re obviously not talking about traditional “listening”. Meaningful listening is more than “hearing”. It demonstrates care, compassion, and concern.

Listening is a skill not often deliberately “taught” to children, yet it’s an extremely valuable attribute that is essential in family, other personal, and school relationships. It will prove invaluable later in life in your child’s relationships at work and as adults in general.  Read below to find a few strategies that we, along with our children, might consider in practicing the skill of meaningful listening.

STEP 1: Change Our Purpose for Listening… “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand.  Most people listen with the intent to reply.”  -Stephen Covey

Sometimes I find myself enthusiastically waiting for the other person to finish what they are saying so that I can respond with my bit of wisdom and advice.  What about you? We sometimes even decide prematurely in our minds what the other person means before they even finish sharing their thoughts! Stephen Covey says we often listen autobiographically, which involves us selectively focusing on what is being said and then interpreting it only from our own personal experiences, biases, and other personal frames of reference.1 Instead, we should clear our minds in order to listen to hear and understand to get a better picture of what they are thinking and feeling.  We might even repeat to the person what was heard to confirm understanding as well as reassure the person they’ve been heard. 

STEP 2: Stop, Look and Listen! “When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person ‘psychological air’. And after that vital need is met, you can then focus on influencing or problem solving.”    -Stephen Covey

The next tier of meaningful listening is known as “emphatic” listening. This involves not only hearing, reflecting, and intellectually understanding the words (about 10 percent of our communication) that are said, but also paying attention to sounds or the inflection in words/voice (30 percent) and observing body language (60 percent).   So, in essence, it means using both sides of our brains and listening emotionally with our ears, eyes, and most importantly our heart.

STEP 3: Practice When Our Children Argue or Strongly Disagree…”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” –To Kill A Mockingbird

Play this version of Win, Lose, or Draw! which involves role switching when your children argue.  For just a few minutes, ask your children to stop, switch bodies, and speak from their opponent’s point of view as clearly and fairly as possible.3  The first person who makes a new point to support their opponent’s position wins! If the other person can communicate their understanding the other person’s position before the judge bangs his/her gavel, it’s a tie. In the end when they come up with a fair solution, there will not be any losers.

Variation: Conduct a mini court.  Casually let each person state their case and then offer them a more mature perspective considering both of their positions. Then, let them try to decide the verdict.  If they cannot compromise and come up with a fair and reasonable solution, YOU be the judge! Clearly explain why you made your final decision in order to turn this argument into a great learning opportunity.  Most importantly, communicate how you listened with ears, eyes, heart, and how that influenced your final verdict.

Fun Twist: Deduct court costs from their allowance if you had to serve as the judge.

Children who are purposefully taught to meaningfully listen, consider another person’s point of view, and how someone else sees or thinks about something are more likely to grow up to be considerate and caring adults. Taking the time to teach and demonstrate these skills is critical to their current and future success.

Please share your success stories, related tips, and/or topic suggestions for future articles by contacting Mrs. Tracey Matthews Wynter, Knox County Schools Family and Community Engagement Department Supervisor, 865-594-9525, tracey.matthews@knoxchools.org. For more information and resources available to Knox County Schools’ students and families, please visit us online at knoxschools.org/fce.



Knoxville Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs provide children opportunities to listen, as well as to be meaningfully listened to. Please visit the Knox County Schools Family Resource Center website at knoxschools.org/frc and select “Local Mentoring Programs” to see the variety of mentoring resources and opportunities available to families in Knox County.

 For additional local resources, contact Mrs. Tamekia Jackson, Knox County Schools Family Resource Center Director, at tamekia.jackson@knoxschools.org, 865-594-1192.

Happy fall, y’all!

Tracey Matthews currently serves as Knox County Schools’ District-wide Family and Community Engagement Supervisor. In this position, Tracey has been entrusted with the responsibility to facilitate the district’s course toward building stronger and lasting partnerships between families, schools, and the community. For more information, please visit the Family and Community Engagement at knoxschools.org.

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