Paying Attention to Children

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

Many parents wonder why their children don’t talk to them.  “How was school?”  “Fine” or “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.”   They often feel it’s just a stage that kids go through–that’s it’s something going on within the child.  Parents rarely consider that it could be something they’re doing–or not doing–that prevents their children from wanting to talk to them.

Children who aren’t listened to grow up feeling that their parents and teachers aren’t truly interested in them; what they feel isn’t very important; their opinions don’t really count.  This is no minor matter; it is hugely significant because the way we are treated as children affects us the rest of our lives.

Being listened to, understood and accepted are basic needs that we all have.

Children know when we really want to grasp what they mean as opposed to having a superficial interaction.  They know that when we want to truly hear and understand, we give them our full attention. The following story told by Australian TET (Teacher Effectiveness Training) Instructor, Robert Pereira, illustrates the power of paying attention in a very dramatic way:

“Only this week, I was asked to speak to Year 8 boys in a New South Wales country secondary school.

I decided to begin with the results of the 2005 Higher School Certificate (HSC), which stated that girls outperformed boys in 35 HSC subjects and that boys only outperformed girls in one.  I then asked the boys why this was so?  First answer given was: ‘Because if he is good at school, he gets teased.’

Me: ‘What do you mean by ‘being good at school’?’

  • ‘he is smart’
  • ‘he reads books’
  • ‘he reads books at recess’
  • ‘he answers heaps of questions’
  • ‘he does his homework’
  • ‘hands his work in on time’
  • ‘does not get into trouble’
  • ‘sits at the front of the class’
  • ‘gets his work right’
  • ‘is good at Math and English’
  • ‘has good ideas in English’

So…for all or some of these behaviors, he might be called a nerd or even GAY.

‘Now, no boy wants to be labeled like this.  So what might he do?’ ask I.

Boy: ‘He will probably dumb himself down, Sir!’

Our discussion continued for a full hour, and one could hear a pin drop.  I did mention at the beginning of the lesson that the next 60 minutes could change the next 5 years of their school life.  Just judging from the concentration, the fixed eyes, the facial expressions of guilt…and of relief…I might just have achieved that aim.

As parents constantly harangue their boys with regard to homework and study, what they may not be aware of is the deeper reason for their sons’ resistance to this educational requirement.”*

Notice that Robert didn’t evaluate, judge, criticize, analyze, lecture, teach or reassure them.  Instead he gave them his full attention, he showed genuine interest in them and let them know that he understood and accepted them as they were.

Imagine the impact of that one hour of time on the lives of those boys!  Consider the impact you can have on your children by the simple yet profound act of listening, understanding and accepting them as they are.

*This story was excerpted from the PET News, Rodney Eivers, Editor and PET Instructor in Australia.