The Gift of Your Attention, Special Needs

A child needs your attention

by Bev Borton~
In a family with a special needs child, every member of the family has special needs. Each deserves attention for their contributions, patience and selflessness. One of the greatest gifts you can bring your family is a practice of full attention. Of course, it may not be possible all the time, but when you can lend your full attention for even a short time, or when it is necessary, you can really make a positive difference. Simple practices of listening can allow every family member to feel heard and understood.

Listening is perhaps the most important aspect of communication. You can become a powerful force by learning to listen well. True listening builds a stronger, deeper connection between you, establishes trust and an environment of safety, saves you from assumptions and misunderstandings, helps to resolve conflict, and creates calm when emotions are high. That’s an impressive list.

What is listening? Let’s separate it into 3 levels.

The lowest level we can call Semi- Listening. We hear what the speaker says, but it’s all about us. Here’s an example:

Son: “Mom, You can’t believe the amount of homework they gave today. It’s going to take me hours!”

Mom: “Well, you know, you just have to suck it up. When I don’t want to do something, I just force myself.”

This kind of listening is half hearted. There is judgment in this answer as well. At this level, the listener may be thinking of what they will say next, how they will respond. Often the listener’s mind is elsewhere, and misses the non-verbal clues being presented.

Objective Listening is more focused on the speaker, but doesn’t get to the “heart” of the matter:

Son: “Mom, You can’t believe the amount of homework they gave today. It’s going to take me hours!”

Mom: “It’s a good thing you care about your homework. You’ll get it done, even if it will take a while.”

This is more complimentary, and supportive. It could be better to form a stronger connection.

Here is some Deep Listening:

Son: “Mom, You can’t believe the amount of homework they gave today. It’s going to take me hours!”

Mom: “It sounds like you are frustrated by that, that you know you will be able to do it, and that it may be a challenge tonight. How can I help?”

In this case, Mom has responded to the feeling of what was said, to her son’s experience. She is tuning into what’s really being expressed, not just the words. She’s using her intuition and reading between the lines to discover how he feels. A lot is based on the tone of what was said to her, and the compassionate tone of her response is more appropriate. Simply by saying, “Tell me more about that.” she can invite the opportunity for her son to be better understood.

Did you know that you can affect the brain and body of the person you are with, simply by listening? What an influence! Listening like this, neuroscientists say, can calm the primitive part of the brain called the amygdala, where we process fear, anxiety, and other emotions. The listener’s hippocampus, a part of the brain vulnerable to stress, also calms down. Win, win. It makes sense. Don’t you feel best when you are able to express yourself without fear of judgment or criticism- when you are invited to be understood?

Want to take it step further and really exert a positive influence? Try some appreciation for the person’s strengths, or express your care for them. Research says (The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz) disengagement rises up to 25% and people become sick when they are criticized. But compliment them genuinely?

Disengagement goes down to 1% and people get healthy. It is thought that he body’s hormones are affected, and self-regulation is stimulated. The brain rewires itself toward a more healthy balance.

Why not have a family talk about listening and its value? The Chinese symbol for listening includes several meanings- eyes, ears, undivided attention and heart. Everyone can practice listening with all four. Try some deep listening without professing your point of view, and see what affect you have on those around you. Notice what’s good about them, and express it. Connect on a level that is neither superior nor inferior; just relate. This level of communication is a real connection at the heart. What can you do today to fulfill a family member’s needs with a gift of full attention?


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About Bev Borton

Bev Borton has spent decades helping people surpass what they only thought were their limits. Dedicated to self-development, she partners with people to transform their lives into the happier, more fulfilled versions they desire. With extensive training and years as a professional life and business coach, she guides her clients through a comfortable process of conversation and discovery that leads to their clear thinking, positive actions and sustainable results. What sets her apart is her ability to help clients develop their best inner energy and attitude for the ultimate success- one that is unique to each person.

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