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Empowering Unique Learners
Mrs. Newsome’s Greatest Gift
Meg Bamford | Head of Miriam School and Learning Center

By Meg Bamford, Head of Miriam School and Learning Center

Wishing you a very happy holiday season! The holidays of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa this month offer a sense of seasonal joy, hope, community, tradition and affirmation of what is truly important. We long for family and friends to create sweet moments together and reminisce on times gone by. 

As we know, realities of life do not cease, no matter what the calendar date. Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the funeral of the mother of one of our beloved Board Members. Articulate and beautifully poised, he reflected on one of the precious gifts his mother had given him - the gift of her undivided attention. Mrs. Newsome showered others with a level of attention that made them feel loved and that nothing else mattered, but her time with them. 

As Mrs. Newsome’s celebration reminds us, to really know our children, we have to take the time to listen. Really listen. It sounds so easy, but honestly, with the frenetic pace that most of our lives seem to be running at, it takes discipline and commitment. 

In reflecting on my own listening behavior lately, I confess that I have been guilty of "half-listening syndrome." There are moments when your child so earnestly wants to talk about something they are excited about, and you are somehow cooking dinner, ordering Christmas presents on Amazon, and eyeballing the refrigerator to figure out lunches for tomorrow. And they are in no way picking up that you aren't interested about what happened with the swings at recess.

It's really hard to find that balance, but the swings at recess are just the beginning. It's our way of figuring out our children's day and ultimately the opening into the deeper conversation. When we blow off that conversation with our focus on our phone and our harrumphing about the fact the empty lemonade carton was put back into the refrigerator (again), we send an unintended message to our kids. And we miss out.

The danger of "half-listening syndrome" is the message we unintentionally send to our children: that we don't care to know what they are thinking, experiencing, or care about. It also is poor modeling. Our children require really good, explicit modeling about how to navigate conversations and relationships. 

I think about the lure of my phone. How might things be different for our children who have grown up in a generation of phones and the distractions that did not exist when we were children? Research from Boston Medical Center indicates that when parents are on their phones during mealtimes, they have 20% less verbal communication with their children and 39% less nonverbal communication such as eye contact, body language and facial expressions. Also, other research reports that there is less connection, awareness and sensitivity to one another. Furthermore, there is less of a sense of satisfaction of time spent together and increased negative behaviors.

I think if you cannot give your child your undivided attention in the moment, be honest about it and offer when it will be a good time to talk. "Hey bud, I really need to get dinner on the table. Can you tell me about the crazy sweater contest while we eat dinner?" Setting an "appointment" to talk sounds corny but it allows for a promise for quality listening. Eating dinner together, tucking your child in bed, and riding in the car to school are great times when we are "all ears." As the most important adults in your child's life, it then takes the discipline of following through with the promise when there are just so many distractions. I try really hard to leave my phone in another room and I work hard to engage in the conversation, fully listening with my ears and my heart. Life is super busy. But these moments give our lives the true meaning behind all of our efforts and through this glorious holiday season.

As always, do not hesitate to reach out to Miriam’s teachers and administrators, Miriam Learning Center specialists, or to me if you are looking for strategies to help your child during this busy season. 

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