Listening to Your Child...Expert Commentary

Children's lives are often expressed in short hand speech. Little words come out from little hearts that say so much. A child is a fountain of love and joy - he is the image of good works in the world. But understanding him, listening to him is not always an easy task for an adult who is preoccupied with his or her own daily life.

Everybody's mind is full of things that interest them; that worry them; that they care about. There are people, events, animals, treasures, duties, jobs, health issues and many, many more things that preoccupy the active alive mind. And each person, adult or child, is different. Each person has a whole different set of things that will either spike a conversation or leave it flat. Learning to talk to one another is an early childhood job.

Then it seems to suddenly take a nose dive. The children leave home and then it's easy to become selfish about conversation. It's easy get around others by thinking, well it interests me, so it's bound to interest you. The usual bringing-up family patois fades into a kind of essential language that's mostly understood rather than communicated. We stop "discussing" like we did as young people either with one another or with children in our lives. Grandchildren are sent to the TV, and dinner time is fudged and even bed time is rote.

As we move away from "trying to understand" the child, it's easy to get caught up in the fantasy that everyone is on your wave length so you just don't wonder, you don't "make conversation" you just assume, you don't ask anymore.

Ask? Ask what? Questions about other people that will engage them and make them think you care about them. It's easy when you are working with children, but as we move out of the child world, we realize engaging others takes a genuine interest in what makes others happy, and genuine time to talk about the things that mean something to them.

That means you listen and they talk. It's not always easy for people out of the child loop because it means putting self second and someone else first.

But communication is a two way street. Ask yourself, when was the last time someone asked you about the things that matter to you? Does your family, a project at work, at home, a book you said you were enjoying, your health, your craft or hobby matter to anyone enough to ask you about these things?

And when was the last time you asked someone, especially a child, about the things that matter to him or her?

Do you know what interests the people close to you or do most of your conversations begin with I and end with me?

Do you think you ask the people closest to you including the kids? It's easy to check. Just make a list of all the things you know interest your friend or relative, and then ask, "When was the last time I asked him or her about these things, and what did he or she say?"

Next time you think the conversation level is down, try asking a child a question. Children are fascinated with their own worlds, and in language that is much less understandable than the ordinary adult, they come to the adult of their strongest affection and they tell them about something near and dear or worrisome, or important or just funny, and they need a response, so listen and then ask him about him.

Listening to a child is an important part of getting to know the child. Sometimes listening beyond words is what is expected of the adult. Watching a child often answers certain questions. Asking the child simple questions that lead him to communicate allows him to have the voice necessary to enter the world and take a place. We often forget that because our place is secure.

Encouraging art, expressing self and sharing that expression is a great way of communicating. Making eye contact with the child, laughing with him, joking with him, meeting him on the same level and then asking him about his dog, his favorite sport, his favorite candy or treat, what he likes to watch on TV, what he likes about his grandparents, and then the little secrets. They mean so much.