I heard a story awhile back from a friend at church who told me a sad story of parents not listening to their kids. He said that him and his wife were at a restaurant and he noticed these parents were on their phones. They never really looked up except for when the waiter came by to check on them and give them their food. Their kids were trying to talk to them, but were being ignored. He said it almost made him cry that these parents were more interested in their phones than their kids. While I do not think this is true for every students’ home life, the fact of the matter is students want to talk and they want people to listen. Listening is a skill that can be very powerful in a student’s life. You may be the first adult who listened when they wanted to tell them about that person they have crush on at school. You could be the first person they tell about their parents getting a divorce. If you listen, students will be changed because they know they can come to you and talk to you. Here are some obvious, not so obvious, tips to listening well to students.
- Stop talking. While this is very obvious, it is true. Students do not have the opportunity to talk unless we stop talking. That may be really hard for you or really easy, but to give our students a chance to talk, we have to be silent.
- Do not interrupt. Nothing gets on my nerves more than being interrupted. If students are telling you something, they want you to listen. If you interrupt them, they have lost the opportunity to do so. If they have six brothers and sisters at home, then they probably get interrupted all the time. When they are with you, though, you can give them your full undivided attention they do not get anywhere else. You could possibly be the only person who will listen to them. If so, then we should not interrupt them. Sometimes, not all, interrupting someone communicates to them what you are saying is important than what they were saying. You may not mean to communicate that at all, but being on the receiving end of being interrupted feels that way. We need to show our students they matter and one way to do so is through giving our undivided attention without interruption.
- Acknowledge what they are saying. When you acknowledge someone about what they are saying, you are showing you are paying attention. One of the best ways to do this is by asking questions. Ask them how that certain situation made them feel. Ask them what they would do differently. Ask them how it impacted their life. Those are three quick and easy questions to ask to show your listening. Also, give them eye contact. People feel they are not being listened to when they do not have eye contact. It makes sense. If you are not looking at them, then you are looking somewhere else. Even though you could be paying attention, the person talking to you feels you care about something else going on. When we acknowledge we are listening students will keep talking and keep opening up about their lives.
- Ask them how they are doing later. While this does not apply with every conversation, talking about the subject later shows you were listening to them earlier. Students may tell you about their parents getting a divorce, an addiction to pornography, or even dealing with mental issues. If they opened up to us, then we should show we care about what they said by asking them how their situation is going. This shows students love because you listened and want them to keep growing in their relationship with Christ.
When we listen to students talk, they get an incredible amount of attention they may not get anywhere else. You may be the only adult to hear some of their stories, but how incredible is that? It is all because you chose to listen.
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