Learning to Listen
By Jeannette Webb
When I began the homeschool adventure, one of my main goals was for my children to communicate effectively. I understood only too well that if I was raising them to impact the culture, they would have to be able to speak into that culture in order to make a difference. So communication skills became one of the cornerstones of our educational plan.
To communicate well, one must be able to write winsomely and share verbal ideas effectively. Both are important. Today let’s talk about training our children to speak to other individuals.
I actually had to train one of my children to communicate one-on-one with his friends. He was so full of words and interests that he wanted to share, that often I would have to rescue little boys whose eyes were glazed over from the lengthy monologues of my young son.
First he had to learn that listening is one of the most important aspects of true communication. I trained him to ask his friends and other people questions to draw them out. He actually had a list of questions that he could ask to find out about what they were interested in, what projects they were working on, what they were doing for fun. He asked adults about their work and their volunteer activities.
Then, he had to learn to make their interests the point of his conversation. His goal was to learn everything he could so he could discuss intelligently what was important to them. At first, he would do this so he could get it over with in order to discuss his own interests. But, as he matured and learned to love other people, he became genuinely interested in their lives and no longer had the need to share everything he knew.
We worked on learning to pay attention to people’s faces – were they bored, indifferent, tired of talking. Training him to pick up on those verbal cues helped him avoid many social missteps.
Over the years, I have found that this is a very common scenario with gifted students who embrace knowledge and/or with students who are on the autistic spectrum and have some issues with social skills.
It is critical that we help our children past these things. While most of our homeschool and church friends will be very kind to these types of kids, the world will not. If we want our children to have friends, be successful in careers, and make a difference in their world, we have to do the hard work up front when they are very young.
You probably don’t want to know that it took years of training to help my son past his communication challenges, but today he is the most compassionate of young men who seems to draw hurting people to Christ’s love like a magnet. He can look in someone’s eyes and interpret what he reads there. The years of training were definitely worth it!
Because our family places such a high value on communication, I have done a great deal of observing over the years and entered into many conversations with friends and strangers. Unfortunately, I have discovered that many adults (without the excuse of autism, giftedness, or immaturity) do not know how to ask questions, engage strangers, or show someone they love them by caring about what matters to the other person.
Learning to ask questions of others makes them feel loved and greatly enriches our own life. Training your kids in this area will yield rich rewards!
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