Right now in the room where you’re sitting, movies are playing all around you. If you had the right receiver or satellite dish, you could pick them up. Just because you can’t see the waves passing through doesn’t mean they aren’t there. With the right receiver you could watch any number of television shows, ball games, talk shows, or listen to private conversations on cell phones and short wave radio. But without the proper receiver, you won’t pick up anything.
Likewise, the adult has one agenda and the child has another. Without being on the same wave length it’s impossible for both adult and child to pick up the real message. If the adult is speaking on FM radio and the child is on AM, we can turn that dial all the way to the left, then go slowly over every station. We can repeat ourselves with every turn of the dial. We can even get frustrated that the child is not responding the way we intended. We can do anything we want to, but as long as we are on FM and a child is on AM, we won’t pick up anything, except stress. The key is for the adult to be actively discerning and willing to change the receiver by listening attentively. This can be very challenging in the midst of our busy lives, but the reward is worth the effort.
The attention we give to a child when they are speaking is significant. When the child begins to speak, this is a sign for the adult to stop, make eye contact, and listen without supplying missing words, or to interrupting their thought process. In this way, we are showing the child their thought is important and we are working with them, not against them. Montessori teaches that the most powerful tool adults have for sharing their way of life and their values is through the example they set. The way we best help to develop good listening skills is by being a good listener of the child. Simply give the child the same attention and respect of thought that we require of them.
Once a child is confident they will be listened to, they will speak more clearly, more boldly, and the bond of trust between the child and adult will increase in increasingly measure. I once witnessed an impacting lesson about tuning into the child:
My family and I were waiting for the next tram inside the Orlando Airport to take us all the way to baggage claim. I noticed a family waiting in our same area that had apparently let several trams come and go, without them. I could see that their son was terrified. He was screaming and having a panic attack about riding this tram. To my knowledge, the tram is the only way to get to the other side of the airport. His parents and sister were so frustrated and embarrassed. They didn’t know what to do. He refused to get on.
They were standing in the front of the line when the next tram rolled through. This time the mom tried to force the young boy (10 or 12 year old) on the tram. However, he escaped her grip and ran away from the tram horrified. This is when I noticed, the mom switch her receiver. She changed her visual and attentive focus.
At this point, I was on the tram looking through the window. She took a deep breath, got down on her knees, made eye contact, and was listening attentively. By switching the receiver, she picked up access to what his need was and how she could meet it. Five to ten minutes later, they walked off the tram, hand in hand. The self-respect of the child was immediately evident by the happy expression on his face. The message was received, they worked together and the victory was his.