to pay attention to sound
to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration
to be alert to catch an expected sound
I find it interesting that being alert and paying attention are highlighted in each meaning. As parents we pride ourselves on our multitasking abilities. Look how easily we can get dinner ready, send a text message, and catch up on the day’s news, all while listening to our child talk about the art project she worked on at school.
It is easy to fool ourselves that we are listening. After all we have alerted our ears to pick up the sound of our child’s voice, but listening involves more than simply using your ears – it involves your eyes, ears, and heart (Medwid & Weston, 1995).
As parents of children who are DHH it is particularly important to pay attention when our children are speaking. Communication becomes exhausting, and breaks down easily, when the listener doesn’t understand what the speaker has said, but pretends they do.
Here are some tips to help you listen better:
- Pay attention with your eyes. If ASL is part of your communication method, then you are way ahead on this one! In order to be an effective communicator in ASL you need to pay attention with your entire eyes – on the lookout for subtle differences in gestures and facial expressions.
- However, if you and your child communicate orally/aurally you should be paying just as much attention with your eyes. Your child is constantly sending you visual messages that go along with their words – body language and facial expressions. If you truly are too busy to pay full attention at the moment tell your child: “I really want to listen to what you have to say. Just give me five minutes to chop these onions and I will be able to hear you better.”
- Repeat what your child says. There is no need to give a “play by play” of what your child has just said. But if your child is trying to tell you about difficult feelings, has a specific request, or is simply telling you a long story it is a good idea to repeat back what you just heard. This can clear up any confusion or misunderstanding that might be happening on either part. It can be as simple as saying something like, “So, you want to know if we are going to the store before or after dinner?”
- Be warned – repetition is a must when your child says something that you do not understand. Never pretend that you understand when you don’t – your child will begin to feel like you are not really listening and won’t always talk the time to tell you what they are thinking. What’s the point if you are only pretending to understand?
- Listening all the way through: We like to be prepared as parents. We want to make sure we can answer our child’s questions; help they understand their feelings; and generally like to stay one step ahead. This often means that halfway through listening we tune out, or begin to think ahead, of what our answer might be. It’s okay to take some time to put together an answer after your child has finished speaking. It’s even okay if we “hem” and “haw” a little bit. When you take the time to slow down you can ensure that you understand exactly what your child is trying to saw.
Taking the time to listen with your eyes, repeat what your child has said, and listening all the way through, not only helps increase your communication with your child, but also serves as a model for what your child needs to do when they are in a conversation that they don’t understand.
Sources: Medwid & Weston (1995) Kid-Friendly Parenting with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, Gallaudet