In Pirke Avot it is written that one acquires Torah through forty-eight qualities, one of which is shmiat ha-ozen — being a careful listener. (Pirke Avot 6:6)
We know that hearing is automatic, but careful listening requires purpose and intention. We need to listen with an open mind and a caring heart to sincerely hear what is being communicated to us. Children often fail to listen carefully in their determination to immediately communicate their thoughts and wishes. As our children grow and develop, we need them to understand when it is important to be a careful listener. There are two important aspects to being a good listener: listening with attention and listening with empathy. To improve listening skills when children are young, provide them with continuous opportunities: tell stories and jokes, take them to the theater and performances and read to them on a daily basis. To sharpen listening skills, give children lists of tasks to accomplish and play listening and memory games. Teach children to wait and listen without interrupting, allowing others to finish speaking.
Once children listen with attention, listening with empathy, Shmiat Ha Ozen, can be taught. Listening with empathy is in the caring, not simply the hearing. Show children that you value listening with empathy by carefully attending to them when they communicate their thoughts, needs, and fears. In addition, children can be taught to read emotional cues in others, such as facial expressions and body language. When the opportunity presents itself, ask your child, “How do you think your friend feels? Look at his face, does he look sad?” If you acknowledge with pride their behaviors that reflect listening with care, children will repeat these behaviors. As with all values we teach our children, if we model careful listening with attention, sincerity, eye contact, and appropriate expression, our children will demonstrate Shmiat Ha Ozen, listening with empathy.
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