Character Notes - Attentiveness

Attentiveness is more than listening with our ears – we also listen with our heart. When I asked my children what they could hear with their hearts – these were their answers:

  • God speaking to us
  • People’s needs
  • Other people’s hearts

Attentiveness is showing the worth of a person by
giving my full concentration.
Adapted from Character First

Links within this page:

What is the opposite of Attentiveness?
Showing the worth of a person
Being a distraction
A family secret – time for application
To be a good listener
Rewards of Attentiveness
Family signals
Keeping character traits in balance
Homeschool Desk opportunities

What is the opposite of Attentiveness?

  1. Hard Heart – This is the opposite because if we have a hard heart towards people we won't see that they have needs, we won't see that they are worth anything. We won't do anything about it.
  2. Distraction – When we don’t pay attention we are focused on something else, and generally miss opportunities; opportunities to learn, to grow or to bless and serve someone else.
  3. Unconcern - This is the definition that Character First gives as the opposite and it is very similar to having a hard heart. If we don't think people are worth anything special (preciousness of others) then we will be unconcerned about what they say, what they think, what they feel, we will be unconcerned about their heart and their life.

Showing the Worth of a person

What does it mean to Show the worth of a person? Because God made each person, because He loves each person, each person is precious. People’s worth is not based on what they have done for your, or how they fit into your life – the basis of their preciousness is that Jesus loves them, and died for them and we should to.

We use the phrase preciousness of others in our family. It is a way of elevating the worth of a person into our every day life. One way we show that we think a person is precious is by being attentive to their words, their needs and their heart.

  • If mummy is precious I will listen to her
  • If my brother is precious I will give him the controls instead of fighting over them
  • If my sister is precious I will keep my side of the bedroom tidy because I know it makes her happy
  • If my friend is precious I will play what she wants to play instead of thinking of myself
  • If God is precious I will spend time with Him everyday.

The preciousness of others will drive us to be attentive. The opposite is also true – When we don’t consider the preciousness of others we will be unconcerned about others.

  • We won't consider their feelings
  • We won't think of them first
  • We won't show respect
  • We won't look for clues on how they are really feeling

Being a Distraction

We are a distraction to ourselves when we:

  • Fiddle with things
  • Look around the room
  • Cough, Sneeze etc (out of respect you need to remove yourself when these things have to happen!)
  • Make silly comments or jokes while someone else is speaking
  • Make jokes at inappropriate times
  • Poke, hit or touch others - either gently or roughly, while someone else is speaking, thinking, or listening
  • Interrupt others inappropriately

When our family was discussing this, the children observed that when we do these things we are not only, not paying attention ourselves but we are causing someone else to not pay attention too - we have distracted them from being attentive.

A family secret

A family assignment for the day, or the week, or daily would be to assign Secret Angels where the assignment is to secretly bless another person in the family. Instead of just talking about serving others discuss it in terms of really hearing a need and meeting that need.


The way we interrupt either as a listener or as someone walking into a conversation shows our consideration for others - shows that we think they are important - and shows our attentiveness to their needs.

When we interrupt we need to use:
  • Our ears - to hear other people's conversation
  • Our eyes - to see what people are doing
  • Our hearts - first of all to love the other person (showing worth) but also to know the right time to interrupt

We need to interrupt with respect - Talking, Thinking, Listening are things that other people do where we need to interrupt with respect.

Situations where we need to think about how we interrupt:
  • When we walk into a room, do we wait and see if anyone else is talking, thinking or listening, before we start talking ourselves. If they are we need to interrupt with respect
  • When we are listening to someone speaking (and yes, as parents this means our children) do we wait for them to finish or do we talk over them - which would be interrupting without respect!
  • On the telephone - Do our children see a telephone call as a conversation - do they know that there is another person on the other end having a conversation. Do our children realize that if Mum is not speaking on the phone she would be listening so they still need to interrupt with respect. Do our children see Mum as an other person to whom they need to see worth?

    Read more about training and telephone conversations
  • Listening to mp3 - I listen to a lot of teaching via mp3, using my headphones. This is a conversation, of sorts, between the speaker and myself. The children need to respect my listening and interrupt with respect.
  • Reading - once again this is a conversation between author and reader; interruptions need to show respect to the thinking that is going on.
  • Computer work - often computer work is a thinking task. To walk into a room talking to a person sitting at the computer is not showing respect for their thinking. Show respect, and consideration by interrupting correctly.

How to interrupt correctly, showing due respect?

We teach our children to walk into a room, into a conversation, quietly – they are not to say a word, and place their hand on my arm or leg and stand there - quietly. I communicate to them, also without saying a word, by placing my hand over their hand. This tells them that I know they want to speak to me, but I am still listening to someone else (or speaking, or thinking etc) and I will be with them in a moment. I can then excuse myself from the other person and ask my child to speak.

The benefits of this training is that the children have something physical to work with (placing their hand on my arm) This removes the urgency to jump up and down, or stand in your face while they wait till you can talk to them.

They are learning to stand still, patience, and they are learning to respect the other people whom they want to interrupt. Plus, you are modeling for them the words Excuse me as you excuse yourself from the other person. Later on in the child's training you will require them to not place their hand on your arm, but to stand still beside you, choose an appropriate time and say, Excuse me. They will then wait till you can be excused and talk to them. They have already learnt the physical self-control and now don't need the physical reminders of interrupting with respect.

To be a good listener

  • Sit still - control our body
  • Look at the person
  • Don’t interrupt but be ready to ask good questions

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning,
and a man of understanding will get guidance.

Prov 1:5 (NirV)

Note: The word understanding here is, shama the Hebrew word meaning, to hear intelligently. The children were reminded of something that their dad had told them: You have two ears and only one mouth. This means you need to listen twice as much as you talk.

A wise old owl
Sat in an oak
The more he heard
The less he spoke
The less he spoke
The more he heard
Why can't we all
Be like that wise old bird?

The rewards of Attentiveness:

  • Helps us build relationships - when we show that people are special to us, that helps them to trust us, and want to know us more. People will also listen to you, since you listened to them.
  • Helps us get the information we need so we can do things right – when we listen, and ask good questions, we will be able to go on and do whatever we need to do, and we will be able to do it right!
  • Helps improve concentration - as you sit up straight, you can breathe well, which means you will get the oxygen your body needs to be able to focus.

Family Signals

We can also be attentive with our eyes – We need to notice people around us. We have a few signals that we use to prompt the children to make moral choices.

50/50 – When we have conversations with people, especially as we meet new people, we need to listen more than we talk. We place our right palm, flat and move it between the middle and ring finger of the left hand.

An alternative signal (considering the saying 2 ears / 1 mouth) would be to tug at the ears and then point to the mouth.

Move on – A eye contact and a flick of the head means This conversation isn’t for your ears and it is time to move on. As our children grow older they are invited into our world more often. This means they are often beside me when I talk to my friends and occasionally the conversation moves to topics that are inappropriate for them to be involved in. Instead of just telling them to move on I give them the opportunity to develop sensitivity themselves by giving them this signal. By not telling them outright what I want, they need to think of the moral choices they have at this point (to satisfy their curiosity and hang around, or be considerate of adults and move on!) I am also showing respect to their age and they can be discreet. There are many times that my friends don’t even realise that the conversation was inappropriate and the teen just slipped away quietly.

Thank you - We occasionally use the Auslan Thankyou as a reminder to them use their manners.


We also need to be attentive to tasks as well. We could easily expand our definition to be:

Attentiveness is showing the worth of a person (or task)
by giving my full concentration.

In this day and age of so much to do, Multi-tasking is encouraged even taught. However well this may work for mindless, repetitive tasks, when we are dealing with people and important tasks we need to give them our full attention. As you consider you day, what tasks could you multi-task and continue to be effective in, and what tasks need your full concentration – what tasks do you need to be attentive to?

Remember People always deserve your full concentration.

Keeping Character traits in Balance

The over emphasis of only one character trait will mean the lack of another trait. Being so very attentive at one point will lead to ignoring something/someone else. We need to keep Attentiveness in balance with Awareness.

We can be so attentive to our school work (books/computer) we miss the needs of people around us. Does our little brother need help, does our sister need a word of encouragement, does mother need us to be quiet as she is on the phone? These are all awareness issues that need to be kept in balance with attentiveness.

We can be so attentive to the person we are talking to we miss seeing the person who has no one to talk to.

We can be so attentive to our tasks we can overlook the cry in someone's heart.

We can be so attentive to the emotional needs of others we ignore our practical responsibilities (which invariable affect other people too!)

We have set boundaries around our children to help them learn this balance.

  • If they cannot answer someone talking to them while they are watching TV, Videos or Computer time they loose the freedom of screen time.
  • If watching a video while we have visitors here, when the visitors leave the TV goes off so that the children can give full attention to their farewells (this is more of a training issue when it is adult visitors)
  • Reading etc behind closed doors is uninviting to other people in their lives
  • Excluding yourself by headphones - in the day of mp3 players this is becoming a significant one, so therefore this is truly a privilege not a right.

Homeschool Desk Opportunities:

Science: Research the deer - habitat - country it comes from – classification
Science: Animal survival – Camouflage
Science: Ears, which could lead to a study of sound, music, technology
Health: Ears
Technology: Sound - telephone - music - radio - hearing aids
Arts: Music – composers

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