10 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Listening Skills
By Jan Pierce August 2020
Active listening skills have benefits ranging from better comprehension in the classroom to better communicators in social skills. Focused listening also shows good character as it shows respect for the speaker. Children with strong listening skills do better in school, sports, relationships, and eventually in their careers. But many children lack this important skill and parents are rightly concerned. What can you do?
Benefits of being an active listener include:
• Fewer misunderstandings
• Faster work rate
• Improved resourcefulness
• More self-reliance
• Improved productivity
Listening Is More Than Just Hearing
First, listening is much more than just hearing. It is a given that you will have your child’s hearing checked by medical professionals and follow up with any problems discovered. Occasionally a wax build-up, ear infection, fluid behind the eardrum, or other relatively minor ear problems must be addressed. If your child does have a hearing loss, be very sure to do all you can to maximize his or her hearing. But listening problems are a different issue. “Listening is the conscious process of receiving meaning from the sounds we hear. It implies the ability to stay focused on the message, screen out distractions, and make a meaningful connection with the content of the message. Good listening requires practice because it requires effort to do it well.” (See the sidebar on APD for information on more severe listening issues.)
You can see that good listening requires not only the ears, but engagement of the mind and body as well. It is a series of decisions made by the listener and it can break down quite easily. Even children who want to “pay attention” and “follow directions” may be unable to if their attention is pulled away by background noise, movement, or other competing thoughts and sounds. Children need practice in focusing their attention, receiving the message, understanding the message, and then responding in the appropriate way.
Parents, you can help your child be a better listener. Here are ten simple ways to build active listening skills:
1. Model active listening
Build listening motivation and success by intentionally gaining your child’s attention before expecting him to listen. Whenever possible, make eye contact before speaking. When he responds, maintain eye contact, and repeat the content of the message or model good listening by using appropriate body language such as nodding.
2. Encourage conversations on topics of her choice
Model good listening and show your appreciation for her ideas. It is surprising how little conversation takes place in our daily lives with today’s busy schedules. Mealtimes are often good times to engage in conversation.
3. Read to your child every day
A ten to fifteen minute read aloud session is one of the most powerful strategies you have to build listening skills. Select books he enjoys and stop often to predict what will happen next or to ask his opinion about the action in the story. Try out audio books too (Sometimes the simple act of adding some headphones helps kids focus on listening.).
4. Build your child’s inner language by having him or her repeat back what you’ve said
Or ask your child to explain what he or she is doing or plans to do. This will help your child to focus on the steps in the process and will help them with listening to receive information and follow steps sequentially.
5. Play the peanut butter and jelly sandwich game
Ask him to write down the directions for making a PBJ and then you model following those directions exactly. Chances are there will be some gaps in the directions which make for a funny and a bit messy activity. The point will be made: listening and following directions is an exact skill if you want a good end product.
6. Play the “add one more” game
Give one direction such as “Touch your nose.” Then add a second direction and ask her to do both in sequence. She will need to remember to touch her nose and then go on to the second command. Keep adding directions and see how many she can remember in sequence. Children love this game.
7. Cook together
Find a simple recipe and enjoy time in the kitchen together. Reading the directions aloud and then following them carefully is great practice in building active listening skills.
8. Take a listening walk
Go for a nature walk with the express intention of noticing sounds. Shhh. What do you hear? Where is the sound coming from? What is making that sound? You might even keep a listening log and record the things you hear.
9. Play sound pattern games
Tap on a drum or clap hands in a variety of different rhythmic patterns and have your child repeat the sounds. You can play the same game by counting and clapping the syllables in words.
10. Play the old standby, Simon Says
This game is not only fun for children; it also builds great listening skills. They do not respond unless the leader says, “Simon says.” #
AUDITORY PROCESSING DISORDER (APD)
Children with auditory processing disorder (APD) have trouble making sense out of what they hear. Most kids with APD — often also called “central auditory processing disorder” (CAPD) — don’t have hearing loss or a listening disorder. They just have a hard time being able to tell the differences between the sounds in words. It’s a complex problem that affects about 5 percent of children.
Sometimes kids who were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) actually end up having auditory processing disorder instead. Then there are others who have not been tested at all. These children may take longer to respond to questions or may score lower on tests. But that’s only because they have trouble processing and translating what they hear.
We recommend specialized auditory processing disorder testing if your child has:
• trouble following spoken directions, especially when there are many steps
• trouble listening, hearing or focusing when it’s very noisy or there’s background noise
• trouble understanding and responding to speech
• extra sensitivity to loud sounds
• inattention/easily distracted
• speech, language or learning challenges
Many children diagnosed with auditory processing disorder can develop better listening skills over time as their auditory system becomes more mature. Although there’s no known cure, working with speech-language therapists and using assistive listening devices can help kids make sense of sounds and develop good communication skills.