Have you ever tried to tell someone something very important to you, only to realize they haven’t really paid attention to anything you have said? It’s incredibly frustrating, and causes many of us to avoid sharing with that person again in the future.
Or have you asked your kids to do something and realized they said, “Sure!” without even hearing what you actually asked? When it happens multiple times a day, it can make even the calmest parent want to scream.
To be Christians prepared to do the good works God has prepared for them, your kids need to be great listeners. Often Christians do more harm than good, because they aren’t listening well to the people they are trying to serve.
Of course, training your kids to be good listeners also improves the chances they will listen more carefully to your instructions, too! There are actually some fun activities you can do with your children to help them develop excellent listening skills.
You will find young children and children with special needs will need to spend a lot of extra time understanding how to listen when the physical cues don’t match what the person is actually saying. Older children and teens may progress quickly through listening skills with people and need more time practicing how to listen to God clearly.
Feel free to mix these up in the way that works best for you and your children. If an activity doesn’t seem to work, try something else. Different children will respond to different activities. The key to success in teaching your child any skill is to find the methods that work best for your child and his personality and learning style.
- Take a listening walk with your family. Who can hear and distinguish the most sounds? Part of listening is to learn to distinguish important sounds from sounds that are relatively unimportant. It is the skill that helps you focus on a conversation and ignore dishes clattering. Did your kids hear any “important” sounds? What sounds made them think of God? Were there any sounds that made them feel the need to investigate or get involved?
- Play the game “What do I really mean?” Have cards with a sentence and then a similar or opposite emotion written on them. The actor says the sentence, but uses her face, tone or body to communicate the real emotion. The others attempt to guess the emotion and whether or not it matches what was said. With younger children or children with special needs, adults may have to be the “actors” at first. Playing with older children can be really fun. Have each person make the clues to the real emotion as subtle as possible – as if the person doesn’t really want you to know his true feelings. Can people guess correctly? It is surprising how many people miss visual clues or clues from tone of voice. Helping your child conquer this skill will not only help her serve people who may be overlooked, but also help her finally understand what you mean when you say, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it!”
- Have people over for dinner or go out to eat with people who have a very different regional dialect, or for whom English is a second language. Many people are not helped appropriately or taught about God because the “helpers” have a difficult time understanding their attempts to communicate. If your children regularly listen to people with various accents, they will become very good at understanding what is being said.
- Use age appropriate mystery stories and movies to practice listening skills. Did your kids catch the one minor thing the criminals said that gave them away? Did they hear the clues mixed in with the funny lines or the unnecessary information? Serving others and sharing our faith sometimes means we need to be able to pick out the important from the unimportant. For example, someone may insist he wants a television, when in reality he is lonely and wants company. Only by listening very carefully to everything he says (clues) will your children be able to discern the actual need.
- Play memory games. There are a lot of easy clapping games for kids that involve remembering names or what someone packed in a suitcase. Use one or make up your own. Ironically, part of being a good listener is actually remembering what is said. People will not feel heard if three minutes later you ask them the exact same question or say something that indicates you don’t remember a thing they just said. One of the most effective minister’s wives I ever knew could remember something important to you or about you years later. Because she remembered that fact about you, it made you feel as if she loved you and cared enough about you to remember.
- Use family devotionals and prayer times to practice listening to what God says. Don’t just focus on the stories in the Bible. Ask your child what God is trying to say to us in the story? How do your children hear God in the way God is answering their prayers? How does what they think they hear God saying match the principles and character of God? This is a skill I don’t think any of us has totally mastered. The more we practice though, the more likely we are to be able to correctly discern what God is saying to us.
Have fun, but realize the critical importance of listening skills. Christians who don’t listen well have a difficult time doing what God wants them to do. Your child will have a difficult time becoming a good listener unless he is taught those skills. It’s worth your time and effort.