Teaching your Child to Listen

Are you tired after a weekend of trying to get through to your child, raising your voice and scolding even punishing your child for not listening to you? I sure am.  I feel like my children are so used to my voice (constant nagging?) that they perceive it as background noise – irritating background noise.  Not very flattering to be ranked similar to the rumbling of the tumble drier. When do I pay attention to the tumble drier – only when it makes funny noises or when I am glad to hear that the cycle has finished.  In other words, my children only listen when I scream or they hear me saying what they want to hear.

Children today can sit in front of the television set listening to their i-pods and playing on their nintendo’s.  Being a tumble drier myself, I can understand that I would be ranked right at the bottom when I try to get my voice heard.  Our children are constantly bombarded with engaging media and we as parents do not have enough glitz and glamour or animation to compete on a level playing ground.

We have to teach our children to actively listen, because there is a difference between hearing and listening.  Listening leads either to gathering information, understanding or enjoyment. Hearing does not necessarily lead to any action or response.  I sat in the car with my two daughters when the youngest kept on repeating the same question over and over and over again.  Her sister did not respond.  When I got fed up and raised my voice and told her to answer her sister, she immediately shouted the answer back to her sister. What does this illustrate? Even though she heard the question, she was not listening and therefore did not to respond. Interestingly she shouted the answer back at her sister – maybe she feels she also will not be heard if she does not speak louder. Listening is active, hearing is passive.

Reading is such a powerful way to teach children to listen.  Sitting down in a quiet room with your children and reading a story to them, will keep them spellbound.  And the bonus – they are giving their full attention to your voice and learning how to listen.  In addition to teaching active listening skills, reading promotes bonding with your child.  Reading teaches children how to communicate effectively, aids in language development, increases attention span, stimulates imagination and teaches what socially acceptable behavior is.

After reading a story, you can test how much they listened.  Engage with your child by asking questions about the characters, who they identified with, would they have behaved the same or differently to the hero or villain in the story.  While reading a story they know well, change the names of the characters and see how quickly they correct you.  Wow – they were actually listening to you!

Other games you can play with your child to promote listening skills is:

  • Sit outside, close your eyes and see how many sounds you can recognize
  • Put a variety of objects that make sounds in a bag, take one by one and let your child try to identify the object – bells, rattles, squeaky toys etc.
  • Play around with rythms.  Use your voice to teach difference in pitch, loud/soft, fast/slow etc.  Play music and let your child clap with the music.
  • “Simon Says” is an old game, but still very effective especially if mommy is also willing to make a fool of herself.  Kids love to laugh at their parents.
  • Listen to stories on a CD in the car.
  • Play “I went to the store and bought an apple.”  Everyone gets to add on an item, but has to remember all of them in sequence.
  • Start a story and allow everyone to add a sentence to the story.
  • Songs with movement is fun and good to teach your child to give the appropriate gesture when they hear a certain word in the song.
  • Play with walkie talkies!  Your child will be more than willing to follow every instruction you give – maybe try: “Go upstairs and clean up your room. Over.”

Important strategies to incorporate into your daily life to help your child to listen to you is:

  • Have a rule that your child must listen to you the first time you speak.
  • When you speak, make eye-contact with your child.
  • Give clear and short instructions.
  • Give your full attention to her to get her full attention.
  • Tell her how many things she has to remember. For example: “You have to remember to do three things – pack the puzzle away, get you pajamas and come to the bathroom.”
  • Repeat the keywords to her – “puzzle, pajamas and bathroom”
  • Remember to praise her for her efforts to listen.

Most important of all my advice is to model active listening behavior to your child.  If you do not listen when she speaks to you, she learns that she does not have to listen to you. When you listen to your child try to make sure there will be no interruption and be patient.  Children struggle to verbalize what they want to say to us as fast as we can.  Waiting patiently for her to say what she wants to say, teaches her that she is important enough for you to take time to listen to her and that she should have respect to also listen to you in a similar way!