Almost anyone who’s serious about acquiring good interpersonal communication habits will appreciate the value of effective listening skills. Some refer to listening as the most important communication skill of them all.

Of course, this doesn’t only apply to adults. Parents around the world know that training their children to listen almost inevitably turns out to be a major challenge, a herculean task that tests their forbearance and mental stamina to the limit.

And ask the average school teacher what his or her number one complaint is. The odds are the reply will be the stress associated with the lack of listening skills in their students.

Learning to listen is the other side of the coin of acquiring good verbal skills. And training needs to begin as early as two years of age.

“Katie, why are you still drawing away with your crayons?” asks Mrs. Thompson.“We're all getting ready for our rest period now. Didn’t you hear the instructions?“

Well, maybe she did hear after all. But listening isn’t quite the same thing, is it?

Without minimizing the pain, Heaven forbid, of parents or teachers whose offspring or young charges conveniently (for the children) turn deaf at just the most inconvenient (for the adults) of times, I’d like to turn the whole problem on it’s head.

Instead of asking, are our children listening to us (as timely as such a query may be), let’s ask for a change: Are we listening to our children?

Consider this little story. If you have a child of your own like Suzie, would you respond as Suzie’s mother did?
Children are small people, so their problems are proportionately small. Small yes, but not trivial

Suzie, a third grader, had recently become very negative and cynical. At times, she was uncharacteristically impudent. In short, a hitherto sweet little girl had turned into a sourpuss!

And when her mother would ask how her day at school went, Suzie would just roll her eyes and not answer.

Suzie’s mother wondered whether something was cooking at school and decided to investigate. Her hunch was correct.

Not that there was any major crisis; just that her Math teacher had come down with the flu and hadn’t reported for duty for a few weeks already, and a substitute was standing in for her English teacher who was away on maternity leave.

That day, when Suzie came home, her mother began to chat to her about the situation at school and was careful to show her interest, concern and empathy. “It must be hard for a diligent girl like you not to have your regular teachers. Especially when you like them so much. I feel so bad for you.”

Suzie’s mother understood something that not every parent understands, basic though it may be. Even though a certain situation may be out of your control and there’s not much you can do to alleviate it, your concern acts as a balm on a child’s wounded spirit.

Of course, this concern needs to be real, not faked: “OK, but what are you worrying for? I’m sure it will work out.” “You have to understand, you’re not the only one in the class.” “It was the same in my day, but I never made a fuss of it.”

That kind of talk just won’t cut it.

Children are small people, so their problems are proportionately small. Small yes, but not trivial. Imagine if someone would say to you: “There are so many problems in the world, this is nothing”, on hearing that you’ve just been laid off from your job!

Your efforts in putting yourself in your child’s shoes, your interest and concern - if it’s sincere and genuine - is what gives her the impetus to communicate with you.

And that’s what you want, isn't it?

Author's Bio: 

Azriel Winnett is creator of - Your Communication Skills Portal at This highly-acclaimed free website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene.

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