Stop and Listen

How often do we listen to what kids say? How often do you as an adult feel unheard? Daily? Maybe just once or twice a week? How often do you think this is for the kids in your life? Sometimes we as adults are so busy “teaching” our children that we forget to stop and listen to what they already know. Even less frequently do we listen to what they perceive. Yes, the minds of children learn fast. But that doesn’t mean we have to directly teach them everything. Sometimes they just need the chance to recognize what they already know. Sometimes they have things to teach us.

When was the last time you sat down with a child and let them tell you how they see their world? Have you ever asked a child to describe what she is seeing around her. When she does this, how quickly do you start talking-filling in the “gaps”?

What would happen if you let the “gaps” be? Let the child fill her own gaps. You may both discover something about the way she sees her world. The way she thinks. What she knows and who she is.

Children do not process as quickly as adults. Yet our fast paced world rarely gives a child the time she needs to really observe, process and then express what she has observed. We move children from thing to thing, topic to topic, subject to subject at an adult pace. Sometimes we say it’s because kids have short attention spans. Yes, they may have short attention spans, but they can also focus. Sometimes they just need to be given the opportunity.

I have a private yoga client who is the middle child in a family of six kids. His parents started him working with me because “he doesn’t pay attention” and they heard yoga was good for kids with ADHD. Yet, when I brought him into my yoga space, he was more attentive than some of my adult clients. After his first class, his mom asked me how he did. My response was to defer to my student. How did you think that went? His mom immediately started asking him question after question. I watched his attention drift to the kids playing down the street, to the dog barking, to everything but himself. The focused child I had in my studio not five minutes before was tuning out. “Matt, is there anything from yoga today that you want to share with your mom?” I asked. I was giving him the opportunity to a.) choose if he wanted to tell his mom anything, and b.) what he felt was most important to him from class. And then I waited. His mom started to ask another question, but I put my hand on her shoulder signaling her to remain quiet. After a minute, what my client said wasn’t anything we had talked about in the hour long lesson. He told his mom that he liked the knit pants he was wearing because they didn’t have a tag. The itch of the tag made him want to scratch and made it hard to think. Not only could my client identify something that was a frequent irritant, but he could articulate what about it bothered him and why.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our kids and should just leave them to figure it our on their own. There are things that need to be directly taught. But particularly when it comes to their perception of the world in which they live, children need to be heard. They need to know that they have observations, perceptions, experiences that are all their own. It is through learning how they see the world that they learn who they are. And we as the adults in their lives get to discover that right along side them. Yet it’s their journey;their discovery. Just as we as adults have our own.

Kids need to learn to process and problem solve, something they largely learn by doing and practicing. If we keep asking our children questions, keep telling them what they see, there comes a point where they can’t see or think through our chatter. They are neither able to hear what we are saying nor process their own thoughts on the subject. The line starts to blur between what they are seeing/perceiving and what they are being told someone else is seeing or perceiving. Then, they lose sight of their own through that of the other.

So how do we as adults help our children learn about their world and themselves? Easy, we ask one question and then we stop and listen. We encourage them to tell more; to describe. Even if you know you just have to tell them this one thing. Stop, and listen. Their sense of self depends on it.