In the old children’s party game “Telephone,” a message is whispered from person to person. Then the last person has to say out loud the message he or she heard. Usually the result is hilarious gibberish!
Listening in real life can be tricky, too. Maybe someone mumbles or whines. Maybe we’re distracted or busy. But listening is an important skill, especially as a club leader—and there are ways to develop this skill.
Why Is Listening Important?
Being listened to makes an impact on kids. It builds kids’ sense of worth by communicating, “I think you’re important” and “I respect your point of view.” Listening to kids also helps them understand God’s willingness to listen to them—important stuff!
Listening to club members paves the way for having them listen to us, which we want because we want them to develop Christian values and behavior. Listening helps us know “where kids are” so we can decide how to present the plan of salvation to them most effectively.
Try this “Test Your Listening Skills” quiz to see where you are.
Tips for Good Listening
We can all benefit from learning better listening skills. No one is perfect! Here are six tips.
1. Respond reflectively. This kind of response doesn’t judge behavior as right or wrong, but simply reflects back to kids what you think they are feeling. Compare these two examples. Think of how a club member is likely to react.
Judgmental response: I think it’s silly to get upset just because Jamie got to be IT more often than you.
Reflective response: You sound upset that Jamie got to be IT more often than you.
We may be so anxious to express our feelings or opinions that we forget to listen to kids’ feelings. Or we end up trying to talk children out of their feelings. Children are more likely to be communicative if they know they won’t be criticized or evaluated.
2. Listen to the language of behavior. A laugh, a sullen face, or a slammed door has meaning just as words do. We can learn to “listen” to behavior. Compare these two responses and how kids are likely to react:
Inhibiting response: You’ve been moping since club started. Why don’t you try smiling once in a while?
Supportive response: You look sad. What’s troubling you?
The key is to show kids we accept their feelings so they can talk with us about them. But how they respond is not as important as their learning that their feelings are important to us.
3. Be less teachy. Sometimes we think we must be “teaching” or setting an example every time we talk with club members. This can get in the way of listening.
“Teachy” response: I know you’re having trouble, but don’t you remember what we learned earlier about patience? Now, when I was your age, I had to really practice being patient. I remember one time when I….
Friendly response: That sounds frustrating. Tell me more about it.
4. Be an active listener. This doesn’t mean using listening time to plan what we are going to say next. It means reflecting with club members, sometimes rephrasing what they are saying, and sometimes just listening intently. It means making conscious efforts to understand and care about what club members are saying.
5. Accept language imperfections. Children often have trouble with pronunciation or grammar, especially if another language is spoken in their home.
Unhelpful response: “More faster” isn’t good English. You should just say “faster.”
Accepting response: Good job. Since you fixed that wobbly wheel, your pine car does go faster!
6. Treat children’s concerns as important. Sometimes adults don’t listen well because what kids, especially younger ones, say doesn’t seem very important. If club members learn that we think their major concerns are minor, they will be unlikely to communicate.
Belittling response: Oh, come on. It’s no big deal that Kelly got invited to that sleepover and you didn’t. There will be lots more sleepovers.
Respectful response: It sure can hurt to feel left out.
We need to listen to and care about all of club members’ concerns, not just to things we consider important. This communicates that we are interested in club members’ well-being, not just in satisfying our anxieties about their thoughts or behavior.
Steps to Take
Better communication is always possible. Try out some of these listening and responding skills with a partner. Have your partner pretend to be a club member. Your partner might relate something from childhood that he or she was excited, scared, sad or angry about.
Now try writing down two practical things you will work on in club to improve your listening skills.
Start now on the road to better listening!