Who's Listening Now?
In my profession as a teacher of the deaf or hard of hearing, we teach how to develop listening skills in children who are just beginning to listen with a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Unfortunately, too often teachers present parents with structured activities to do with their children that hold no meaning for the very young child and are frustrating for parents. For example, sometimes the 1-year-old child is supposed to indicate that he has heard the sound presented, such as “ee,” by dropping a block or other object in a container. Many babies do not understand this activity since they have not heard well or at all up to this point. Providing practice throughout the day with these sounds is much more meaningful to the child and parent. Parents or teachers who present these sounds with meaning, intentionality, and purpose are much more appropriate and successful. Once the baby or child has had a lot of meaningful practice listening to sounds in his/her environment, then the baby is ready for more structured practice as mentioned above.
Mr. (Fred) Rogers once said, “Listening is where love begins.” How does a person show love by listening? A parent or teacher consistently listens to a child, follows the child’s lead, and routinely works suggested listening sounds into the child’s play and other activities. For example, when the parent is providing practice with the listening sound "ee", the parent brings out a box of cars for the child. While the child is playing with the cars, the parent stops a car in front of the child’s foot or another car, and says, “Beep, beep!” Another day, the parent gives the child a couple of sponges (cut full-sized ones in half), a bucket of soapy water, and goes outside with the child to wash the child’s dirty picnic table. The parent models for him, “Squeeze. You are squeezing the sponge. Look! The water is coming out. Now you can wash the table.” There you have loving, fun and meaningful practice listening to the “ee” sound.
The road to intentionality is paved with listening. One must be “in the moment” with a child and focused on what he is doing in order to be intentional when communicating. The parent or teacher must listen to what the child is trying to say, and pay close attention to what he/she does, sees, or hears. Then the parent/teacher has to pair the child’s actions with a model of the language the child needs to hear.
Talking with purpose is another way to show love and caring. Talking with purpose is sometimes called “being present” or “in the moment.” It takes purposeful concentration on the child and what he/she is doing, seeing, hearing, or saying in order to respond with appropriate language models. This listening does not end in infancy. Listening and language skills become more advanced and specific as the child grows older.
Some of the most important listening is during infancy or as soon as the child is implanted or amplified. Why is this? It has been mentioned in earlier blog posts that the most important listening and language experience is from birth to three. This is the time that the plasticity of the nervous system is most receptive to new information.
Listening is not only extremely helpful for learning, it also shows respect. When a child or an adult has something to say, if at all possible, we should pay attention and listen. If it is not possible, and Mom is on the phone, for example, it is perfectly reasonable to tell your child that he will have to wait, “Mommy is talking on the phone. You need to wait." Moms, Dads, and Grandparents have the right to listen as well, whether in conversation or on the phone. If the conversation or phone call can wait, try to cut it short and call back after the children are occupied in play or are in bed.
"Listening is where love begins*,” has a lot of meaning for families with a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, learning to listen with a cochlear implant or hearing aid. "Listening is where love begins" is not a bad way to live all of our lives!
*Mr. Fred Rogers