Kids don’t listen. Or do they? Put your phone down, pay attention and truly listen to what your children say; you might be surprised at how tuned in they really are.
Even if it feels like your kids are ignoring you half the time, rest assured that they are picking up communication skills from you – along with opinions, social cues and rules. Below are a few examples I’ve heard recently, demonstrating that children really do pay attention.
The concerned older brother. Cole, a first-grader, told his mom about an impromptu Q&A with his brother’s kindergarten teacher. Cole relayed that little Quinn was adjusting well to school: “Do you know how I know that? Because today I walked past his teacher on my way back from the library and said, ‘Excuse me, can you please tell me if my brother, Quinn, is doing well in school so far?’ And she said, ‘Why, yes, he is. Thanks for asking!’ ” Somewhere along the way, whether his mother knew it or not, Cole had learned how to ask a pertinent question politely.
The socially conscious camper. Another first-grader had been waiting all week to buy her own fast-food lunch at the end of summer camp. Her mom pulled up the choices online. When the child read that Chick-fil-A was an option, she said, “I don’t want to eat that because I heard that Chick-fil-A said things that hurt lots of people’s feelings. It isn’t nice to hurt people’s feelings.” She had heard and processed information, formed an opinion and made a choice based on that opinion – all forms of communication.
The rule-followers. One 7-year-old boy had some words of warning for his mother, who had rented a movie from the library. He reminded his mom that she could not copy the movie onto her computer: “No way! At the beginning of every movie, there’s an FBI warning that says you can’t copy it or you are going to go to jail, and I’m going to have to live with my grandparents or something.” Another child, this one a 3-year-old preschooler, was certain that someone could “go to jail if you touch the fireman button on the elevator.” Whether correct or not, these kids had absorbed the idea that actions have consequences, and that rules are important.
The mistaken adult. Be sure you know what a child is really asking. One kindergartner recently asked an adult, “How do you get to the principal’s office?” So she gave him directions: Turn left, go down the hall, turn right. He kept insisting, “No, no, how do you get to the principal’s office?” – meaning, “What do you have to do to be sent there?” Even adults can misunderstand each other; practice listening carefully to your children’s questions and find out what they really want to know.
The saddened space enthusiast. When education and communication are working at their best, kids make connections at school, at home and socially. For example, one 3-year-old girl learned about astronauts and the Curiosity rover at day camp. At home, she liked to “talk” to the rover on her pink toy cellphone. When she overheard her dad say that Neil Armstrong had died, she was upset, and they were able to have a conversation about Armstrong. Communication is a vital tool in helping kids process their emotions.
So listen up, parents – it might not look that way, but your kids are listening.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at email@example.com or call 704-236-9510.