Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"What did you say?": The Selective Hearing of Children

Clara's selective hearing:

Nearly every morning, there are a series of seemingly simple tasks that I ask Clara to complete: get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your hair, put on a headband, brush your teeth, and put on your shoes. 

Yet, somehow, nearly every morning, despite multiple reminders, with just five minutes left before we are late for school, one or sometimes all of these six tasks have not been completed.

Those remaining five minutes often become increasingly stressful, and I feel like some monolithic mom barking out orders. With little time left, the earlier requests that began with pleases and thank you's instead turn into "HAIR! HEADBAND! SHOES!" and sometimes details like brushing her teeth get dropped along the way and breakfast becomes toast in the car instead of a sit-down breakfast.

I would love for these mornings to feel more relaxing, and I would love to feel that I could communicate effectively rather than giving a bazillion reminders escalating in cavewoman talk.

What the experts suggest:

I did some Internet searches to see what other parenting experts recommend about selective hearing and getting children to listen.

1. I found the "Never Ask Twice" method by Noël Janis-Norton. The recommendation here is to stop what you are doing as the parent and basically stand next to the child until what you ask is completed. This method seems promising on a lazy weekend day, but on a busy workday morning, I, too, am struggling to get ready in time, and the idea of standing next to Clara while she completes each of her morning tasks feels like it would be too frustrating.

2. Another parenting expert, Jane Nelson, author of "Positive Discipline, suggests that the issue is that parents don't listen enough to their children, that they talk too much and tell them what to do instead of teaching the child to understand what to do. Again, the recommendation here takes extra time, but it seems to get to the core issue in a better way. Nelsen suggests that instead of saying, "put on your shoes", you instead ask, "What else do you need to have on before you go outside?" This method empowers the child to be thoughtful and responsible for herself. I think I will give this one a try.

My selective hearing: 

I have to admit that this topic of selective hearing hits a chord very close to home. When I was exactly Clara's age I pretended to not be able to hear for several months-- literally.
A photo of me when I was about Clara's age... at the time of my "hearing loss."

“Ellyn, it’s time to set the table,”… my six-year-old self heard these words coming out of my mother’s mouth, but I chose to ignore them. I was playing outside, and I wanted to keep playing outside.
When I returned later to the kitchen, my mom asked with an exasperated tone why I had not come inside when she had called me more than five times.

I weighed my options internally. I could say that I didn’t want to come inside because I was playing and didn't want to come inside. That didn’t seem like a good option. Or, I thought, with a certain amount of pride at the brilliance of my idea, I could say I did not hear her.
I was typically an obsessively honest child. I apologized if I said even a white lie. Given my truthful track record, my mom took my statement at face value and immediately became concerned about my hearing.

After a week of exhibiting my hearing loss at home, there happened to be the once per year routine hearing tests given at my school. I failed the hearing test at school, and my parents took me to a professional audiologist for more tests.

I went to another doctor, and another doctor. The test results were all over the place, and they were having trouble isolating my problem. Eventually, one of the audiologists, who happened to be a member of my church, put together the pieces and recognized what was happening.

I remember the audiologist kneeling down to my level and saying, "Ellyn, I know you can hear."

My ruse was up! She told my parents. We had just moved to a new house in a new state, and in retrospect, it seems that my actions were an attempt to get attention during a stressful time.

I guess I should be grateful that Clara has yet to make up any chronic health problems to get my attention. For now, I just have to work through the day-to-day stuff about how to communicate so that she will listen. 

Like Jane Nelsen suggests, I think every kid (and even every adult) wants to be listened to, and so I'm hopeful that one key to resolving Clara's selective hearing is for me to be more open to not just hearing Clara, but really listening to her. 


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