Huh? Tips to Improve a Child’s Listening Skills
Talking to your children can be one of the most rewarding parts of your day as a parent. But when there are struggles with listening, it also can be frustrating. “I felt like our son would lose interest in our conversations. He would get distracted and jump from topic to topic. I know kids have shorter attention spans, but it can make it hard to connect,” says Tracy Carmichael, Kansas City, MO, mom.
Strong listening skills can help your child succeed in all aspects of life. In social interaction, academics, sports, activities and beyond, learning to actively listen is an important life lesson. “It has always been important to us to raise our kids to be good listeners. To really engage with another person when they are speaking, rather than waiting for a turn to talk. And to listen fully to directions before acting,” Kacy Golden, Olathe mom, says. “These things can give kids such an advantage.”
There are two types of listening: active and passive. When your child is listening passively, he or she hears your words but does not outwardly engage with what you are saying. When your child is listening actively, he or she thinks about what you have said and reacts or interacts. Here are a few tips to help your child learn the valuable skill of active listening:
Model good listening. The best way for children to learn behavior is to watch the behavior. “I know that when I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ my toddler is more likely to use those words,” Monica Ross, Shawnee mom, says. “It takes more time and patience, but it works the same way with listening. I have to show him how to listen in order for him to learn.”
To model active listening, demonstrate to your child that you are paying attention. Look the child in the eye while he talks and use your body language to show you are following along. Provide feedback while your child speaks, and ask questions. Keep distractions to a minimum and do not try to multitask while having an important conversation.
Follow directions. Teaching children to follow directions can help your child’s listening skills improve. There are many things you can do around the house to help make following directions fun! Try cooking together and reading the recipe step-by-step. Ask your child to repeat the steps back to you and discuss what comes next. Play games where there are multiple steps to follow or set up obstacle courses with many steps.
Actively engage. The more often you dedicate time to talking to your child, the more your child will exercise his or her listening skills. If making a connection is difficult, try getting on your child’s level when you talk and look the child in the eye. Pay attention to your child’s interests and allow those interests to be topics of conversation. If you want your child’s full attention, try to begin conversations when the child is not distracted. Do not begin the conversation until you have the child’s attention or you likely will struggle to gain his attention during the conversation.
Talk, talk, talk. The more words your child hears, the more his vocabulary will grow. A larger vocabulary helps your child understand more in conversation and communicate better with others. Experts recommend that children hear 30,000 words per day! Many of these words will come in daily communication and interaction with friends and family members. However, you can increase the word count by listening to music, reading books and telling stories.
The benefits of active listening stretch way beyond childhood. People who are good listeners are more productive, lead less stressful lives, make fewer mistakes at work and build more harmonious relationships.
Fun Activities to Help Promote Listening Skills
Reading is a wonderful way to help expand your child’s imagination, grow your child’s vocabulary and improve his or her listening skills. For maximum benefit, try these tips while you are reading:
- Ask your child questions about the story as you read.
- Invite your child to help you guess what will happen next in the story.
- Take time to look at the pictures and ask your child to describe each scene.
Melissa Bellach is a mom and freelance writer living in Overland Park.