Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Put Your Listening Ears On

I'm hosting my very first guest-poster here today, and I'm so excited because not only is Alysia awesome; she's someone I have the privilege of knowing in real life! She's a wife, a mom, and a socially conscious people-advocate. And she's got a great point here:

I tell my 4-year-old kiddo all. the. time. to put her listening ears on. Screening out what they don’t want to hear is a skill that preschoolers are particularly adept at. I know the author of this lovely blog, Rabia, is quite familiar with this pint-sized skill set as well. All parents are. 

To be honest, though, all of us could stand to improve our listening skills. A lot of ink has been spilled about how Americans are living distracted lives, too caught up in work and family obligations, as well as in isolating words on little, tiny, glowing screens, to be present in the moment. Apparently most grown folks don’t listen very well either. 

One of my favorite not-listening stories happened to me a number of years ago. My hubby, Mike, and I were driving somewhere. It was a mini-road trip, probably to visit some relative, and we were in the car together for a few hours (this was pre-kiddo and pre-iPhone, so maybe mommy brain and smart phones aren’t the sole culprits behind bad listening skills after all...). Mike was reading a newspaper, and he occasionally read aloud stories that he found interesting. Flash forward a few hours. We’re at our destination, eating dinner and making small talk. I exclaim, “I heard the most interesting thing today on the radio!” and I proceeded to recount a news story. Mike quietly replied, “Yeah, I told you that.” “No you didn’t! I heard it on the radio!” “Yes, I did. I read it to you in the car!” “No, you didn’t!” “YES. I did.” 

I lost that argument when we got back to the car and Mike showed me the story in the paper. It was verbatim what I “remembered” hearing on the radio. I don’t know where my listening ears were; seemingly they fell plumb off. 

In my here and now, I’m really interested in prosocial behavior and cultivating empathy. I’ve embarked on a journey to cultivate a self-orientation toward being intentional, and to practice daily rituals that make my and other’s time on this planet more meaningful. Active listening is a big component of that. Psychology Today wrote an article a few years ago saying that active listening can help relationships. Other sources claim that active listening is key to business success. And, perhaps most importantly with regard to kiddos, active listening can help improve communication between parents and children. 

Back in the winter, when my daughter was 3 years old, she declared one day that she was no longer going to suck her thumb. My hubby and I supported that decision, and she flat-out didn’t suck her thumb any more. We charted her success, and after 8 weeks of thumb-free time, I took her to a store and let her pick out a toy as a reward. But despite her success, she’s recently started backsliding into her thumb sucking habit again. I’ve talked to her about stopping, and she says it’s hard. I told her that changing habits can be a really difficult thing, and that even grown-ups have a hard time changing their behavior (as a person who has sworn off sweets, French fries, and Diet Coke a million gazillion times, I can most definitely relate to her struggle). 

The kiddo and I were talking in the car this morning, and I asked her if it would help her stop sucking her thumb if I tried to work on a behavior that I need to change as well. I thought that if we tried to do something together, we may both be more successful. She said that it would, so I asked her what one thing she thought I should change. She said “Yelling.” I won’t lie – that stung a little. I don’t think I yell very much, but maybe in her eyes, I do. And her perspective is what matters here. And so while I already had it on my to-do list today to write a post about active listening, the importance of that has really hit home for me now. I need to commit to listening more often, and to raising my voice less.  Truth told, active listening is easier said than done, and I’m still not particularly good at it. 

I have a lot of room for improvement, but I know I can be a better listener. When I feel the urge to yell, I know I can take a deep breath and focus on what my child is really trying to tell me through the whining. I know I can put down the smart phone, power down the iPad, and step out of the routines that dull my senses. And even if I can’t do these things, at the very least I know I can try. 

I’m not sure it’s healthy or even possible to actively listen 100% of the time, but each moment that we do is a good step forward. Each time I truly hear my child so that she feels affirmed is a good thing. Each time I hear Mike so that he feels like an equal partner in our marriage is a good thing. Each time I hear my colleague so that she feels proud of her contributions is a good thing. Yeah, sure, sometimes I’ll be stuck in a Facebook scroll and I won’t listen. I apologize in advance for that. The good thing about “room for improvement,” though, is that I can only get better. That’s a future worth listening to. 

Bio: Alysia blogs at Good & Gracious Co. Her goal is to build a community of awesome folks who think a good time is helping themselves and others. You can read more about Alysia over on her Good & Gracious Co. bio page.


  1. Great lesson to be learned here and this mom definitely knows at times she can loss her patience by yelling when things get to stressful and not always has her listening ears on, as well. So thank you for the gentle reminder here today.

  2. Aren't kids the best 'teachers' of what we need to improve? I've had my eldest tell me, "You don't need to say it so mean to him" when I disciplined his little brother. Reality check! I think listening is one of the most underused skills (I wrote a whole blog post about it!). One thing I heard was to pause after a person has stopped speaking. In conversations, it's so easy to jump in with your thoughts because we're so excited. But what that does is not give the other person complete space to share his or her words.

  3. Thanks for reading Janine! I'm definitely trying to listen more first!

  4. My husband is a slow talker. By that I mean he makes long pauses in between his thoughts. It took a lot of arguments of my interrupting, before I learned to take a very slow, deep breath before I respond to him. That way I can make sure he's finished talking. It's a good skill to have for kids too!

  5. I feel like my ears shut off when everyone starts talking at once. Doesn't make for good communication that way!


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