Lately, I’ve observed on different occasions how poorly we’re listening to one another. We‘re in such a frenetic rush to state our own opinions that we fail to really hear what others are saying.
I can understand how excited one can become in the midst of a lively debate and feel the urge to express one’s passionate opinion. But how can we possibly respond well, if we never allow the other person to finish his or her thoughts?
Have we become too inpatient as a culture? Maybe, with people rushing at breakneck speeds to “do it all,” we’re losing the ability to slow down and really listen to what is being said by our spouse, our children, co-workers, friends, and other people we encounter (even our adversaries). Do relationships suffer without good listening skills?
I still remember my mother telling me that it was simply impolite to interrupt another’s flow of thought. And, now that I am older, I understand how right she was--even though recently, I, too, have been guilty of breaking this rule.
It is not only appropriate but ideal to think or reflect upon another’s words, in order to truly understand what the person is saying and to be fully engaged before we communicate our own thoughts? This also could save time and energy, as people spend less time “talking past” each other—as seems so common today—and re-explaining what they’ve just said or meant.
If we’re truthful, as adults, we’re not good at remaining silent and our children are following suit. It seems “waiting one’s turn” has disappeared. Many children fail to use the words “excuse me” when they want our attention or that of teachers or other adult figures. Examples of this would be the repeated shouts of “Mommy” or “Daddy,” along with the physical butting in or, in some cases, aggressive tugging on our shirt sleeves to get our attention. Saying, “I’m sorry, Mommy, but I have to . . . “or merely being patient while waiting their turn is often absent.
As an Etiquette Coach teaching good manners and proper social skills to children and teenagers, I question what is happening to our listening skills. We have to understand that our children emulate our behavior. We need to illustrate on a daily basis good listening skills and a show of respect for another’s view.
From TV popular reality shows to roundtable news discussions, what children see are conversations that can be insulting and discourteous. Screaming matches take place between so-called friends on popular reality shows, with vicious retorts and verbal jabs that hit way “below the belt.” Even supposed discussions of high level topics between news journalists and pundits can disintegrate into “dog fights” with guests competing to see who has the fastest or cleverest comment. In their rush to be heard, they’re not really listening. Rather, they’re making only rapid judgments with little basis since they’ve failed to hear what was said. And why must different views be “shouted down,” with the slightest disagreement turning into a battle between the involved parties?Listening well offers others room to express their opinions. Remaining open-minded and present during a discussion and, as much as possible, temporarily suspending our egos makes for a richer discussion with less misunderstanding. It is often said that good communication is 80% listening and 20% talking. Listening is not only hearing the words that are spoken, it’s being actively engaged and fully present.
As important as good listening is for adults, children need good listening skills for school, developing good friendships and, later, as young adults interviewing for college and jobs.
Here are a few tips I would like to suggest that will help guide your children, and all of us, in that direction:
Look at the person with whom they are speaking.
Do not interrupt --- rather allow the other person to finish his or her thoughts.
Nod, lean in towards the person, maintain good eye contact, and smile.
Repeat to the person what has been said (which shows active and engaged listening).
Be fully present, try to remove distractions, and stay focus on what is being said.
Finally, when children are listening more than they are talking, they learn more and appear less “self-centered.” By learning the skills for listening well, our children will demonstrate better manners and greater respect for the thoughts and opinions of others.
I can still remember the patterns set in my childhood home. There were six kids and always an insane amount of work to be done on any given day. And yet my Mom, the CEO of the family, ran a tight ship with an organized schedule that kept her pretty sane throughout those child rearing years.
Years later, I asked her how she did it. She said that with six kids, she realized early on that she had to maintain a semblance of order. She did this by establishing routines that became habits, keeping her and our family well-balanced.
In looking back, she started with household chores. We were each assigned specific duties during the week that were posted on Sunday evening. And much to her credit, she was not sexist. There were no assignments only for “boys” versus “girls” -- except for grass-cutting, which I assumed was her way to let the boys spend time bonding with Dad on the weekends. Just a personal thought.
Also, I remember meals being democratic in the sense that they were consistent both in terms of the time served and their content. Breakfast was a choice of oatmeal or Cream-of-Wheat with milk or orange juice. The exception was the weekends, when we had eggs and toast or cold cereal. Lunch was the straight-up childhood tradition -- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two cookies, and a piece of fruit. And dinner was served between 4:00-4:30 with the standard requirements of a meat, a starch, and a vegetable. Dessert was served on special occasions. After dinner, dishes were washed, lights turned off, and no further “loitering” was allowed in the kitchen. Our kitchen was like a well-run restaurant with established operating hours.
After dinner, there was always homework, and then our uniforms were laid out, quick baths were taken, and a quick story before kissing my mom good night. There was the clear understanding that no one was to get out of bed unless we felt sick or needed to go "wee-wee." Now, I have to say that my Mom pulled it off brilliantly, having to do it alone when we were very young because my Dad worked two jobs. One of them was the night shift from 3:00 p.m. to midnight.
But fast-forward to 2012 and the modern family lifestyle is very different from past generations. In many cases, both parents are working outside the home with varying hours. On top of this, children are kept busy with extracurricular activities, including sports, requiring parents rushing from work to attend games or carpooling children to practice. And then there are also school plays and PTA meetings.
By the time everyone has arrived home, there’s not enough time left in the evening to prepare dinner, get homework done, and review items for work and school the next day. Then, it’s bath time and a quick story to end another busy day. With all the madness of rushing back and forth, feeling like a spinning top, it may seem impossible to imagine an organized and less cluttered life.
The question is: “Is it possible to have a family lifestyle that feels less chaotic with lower levels of stress and anxiety?” I think so and, while I am not advocating one that follows the exact pattern of my Mom, I do believe some of her approaches could make a huge difference.
The first thing is to remember that you have to think about the rules you would like to establish and, equally importantly, be truly willing to commit to as parents. Children need boundaries and established routines which make them feel safe and protected. Establishing simple rules that you consistently reinforce will become second nature to your children as time goes on.
Starting early, even at 3 and 4 years old, children can be taught to do different household chores. This can start with small tasks, like setting and clearing the dining room table. When they’re older, they can load and unload the dishwasher. And for still older, there’s also dusting and spot-cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash. It’s just important that everyone play a role in keeping the house clean and orderly. At a minimum, this means children being responsible for handling their own “stuff.”
Another great idea is to teach children that everything has a “home” and that they should be mindful of returning items where they belong –that is, shoes “live” in the closet, towels “live” on the rack, clothes “live” on hangars not the floor, dishes “live” in the dishwasher or cabinets and are not left on tables, counter-tops, or in the sink for someone else to wash. These are just a few examples of how a parent can begin to establish a home with a feeling of calm orderliness. It is a feeling of calm that will start to influence your children and that they will take with them.
When it comes to extracurricular activities and other appointments, put up a large dry-erase calendar in a convenient place in the house for posting of everyone’s schedules. Establish an expectation of children every night picking out their next day outfit and cleaning and replenishing necessary items in their knapsacks. This can be a ritual that becomes as routine as putting on pajamas and brushing their teeth at night. And while a sit-down dinner may not be a possibility every night, try to establish at least 2-3 nights a week when the family sits down at a table together to enjoy a meal, preferably dinner, and there’s less rushing out the door.
choose a bedtime hour and set it in stone, especially for young children.
Children who are put to bed in
the same fashion and at the same time every night will end up telling adults
“it’s time for bed.”
I still remember my niece, who’s now 16 years old, telling me that it was bedtime at 8 o’clock whenever she came for weekend visits at the age of 8 and 9. Early bedtimes also give parents a few hours to read or talk before going to sleep. What better way to end a long day?
As an etiquette coach, I believe children learn from established patterns—household “manners,” if you will, specifically as they relate to chores. Children learn that there are expectations in helping the family care for each other and this simply makes other manners naturally follow, such as apologizing, sharing, table manners, and being accountable for one’s responsibilities in the home. Routines are patterns that, once set, become good habits that young people will carry through their lives, leading them to be strong and good adults.
will be easier with an established pattern of simple rules and consistent
expectations. This organizing—really,
a calming—of one’s home environment will immediately help to eliminate or markedly
reduce the chaos that causes daily stress and anxiety. Try it. You may find you
This summer, I found myself thinking more often than I would like, “What has happened to common decency?” Whether it’s the driver cutting you off with no signaling, or the opening of a door for someone with nary a grunt much less a thank you, or the child who snatches a treat without saying “thank you.” These acts of rudeness are becoming far too common in our society.
But the worse indiscretions are the verbal fights between friends, a couple, or even parents with children present that escalate into “free for alls” with no restraints in sight. Unimaginable expletives and various layers of vulgar language are used with physical violence seemly minutes away. And unfortunately our public arenas are no longer off limit for expressing one’s nastiest emotions with no regard to those around us.
Recently, my husband and I found ourselves stuck in traffic when our car died. But it only took seconds before drivers began slamming on their horns. My husband, who often thinks of others, rushed me and my stepdaughter out of the car and attempted to roll it to the other side of the street. And suddenly, we hear a woman, two cars back, screaming at the top of her lungs for us to get the “f*** out the way” ---- and she continues to scream at the top of her lungs as she sped by. Is this for real? I ask myself. My adrenaline is up and I feel pushed to my limits. But somehow I remain calm and chalk it up as simply “a crazy women”, an anomaly.
But it’s not an anomaly; people’s patience is at an all time premium nowadays. Barely a week later, while on vacation, in a quaint city bordering a lovely beach, I was crossing the street on a green light for pedestrians, with what also appeared to be a left arrow for drivers, when suddenly; a Mercedes sped from behind, barely missing me, yelling “GO!” ---“Go where, I thought?!” “Jeez, “Where’s the fire?” Now granted, I’m in a new town, in a four-way intersection in which I might have mistakenly walk before my turn but was the loud honking and extremely hostile comment of “GO’ necessary?
Unfortunately, I believe the world is losing some of the values once taught by our parents, plain old good manners. Perhaps they’re not being enforced anymore. Maybe parents have too little time in the rush of their daily lives to ensure that these basic lessons are integrated into the lives of their children. I don't know with certainty the reasons for the decline of courtesy and respect towards each other but it definitely manifested itself on more occasions than I would like recently.
Perhaps some readers will agree and others not
with my opinion, but I do think that the simplest and direct route to restoring
civility that seems lost in today's world begins with the use of basic manners
and not at the dinner table only but in everyday life.