Listening is a valuable communication skill worth teaching to your children. Parents often complain of their instructions falling on deaf ears due to their children not having any listening skills. Young children, in particular, have a way of being selective in their listening, tuning out those things they don’t want to hear. Kids simply ignore adult requests when these requests interfere with what they want to do.
Listening is not a skill that’s naturally ingrained in a child, but it can be developed. Good listening skills will help your kids do better in school, develop successful relationships and grow in their personal and professional lives. Here are a few ideas on how to improve listening skills in children from the time they are small.
Get on Your Child’s Level
One of the best ways to help your child become a better listener is to get on his or her level. Put yourself in your child’s shoes to better understand the world as he or she sees it. Busy homes are often full of distractions that make it hard for kids to pay attention to what’s being said. You will have an easier time teaching your kids how to listen by getting alone with them in a peaceful, quiet environment where they can give you their undivided attention. When talking with your kids, make sure you make eye contact, speak clearly and calmly and keep instructions short and sweet. By making it easy for your kids to listen, you’ll have greater success in getting them to follow through with your instructions.
Be a Good Listener
It’s hard to teach kids to listen if you are not a good listener yourself. In the average household, there are many distractions that can pull your attention away from your kids. Between house chores and getting ready for work, it’s easy to fall into the habit of multi-tasking while “listening” to your kids rather than giving them your undivided attention. Unless you take time to personally interact with your kids, listen to their stories and show genuine interest in their lives, you’ll have a difficult time getting them to listen to you.
Repeat Instructions Back
Many parents use the trick of having their kids repeat what they were told to make sure they were listening and heard it right. This is especially helpful when giving kids instructions. Knowing they have to repeat back instructions forces kids to tune in to what you are saying. The same process can be used when your kids ask things of you, i.e. you can repeat their requests back to show them you were listening. This also gives you time to ask any questions you may have concerning their request or clarify any misunderstandings.
Listening Skills Activities and Games
Listening skills exercises, activities and games are another means of teaching or improving listening skills in children. Young children often respond better to learning when it’s presented in the form of play. Here are a few games you can play with your little ones to develop these essential skills.
Simon Says: Simon Says is a favorite of young children and can be played with one or more kids. In this game, “Simon” gives an instruction and all the kids have to listen and follow through with what Simon says. Instructions should be simple yet fun to keep kids entertained. For greater variety, have your kids take turns being Simon.
Story Telling: This is a great game to play during family time. One person starts by saying one sentence of a made up story. The next person adds another sentence to the story. Everyone needs to listen to what’s being said so they can continue building on the story in a relatable way.
Thankfulness Game: This is a good conversation starter for mealtimes. One person starts by saying something they are thankful for. This could be some type of food, an activity, a person, etc. The second person repeats what the first one said and adds on by telling what he’s thankful for. As you go around the table, everyone has to repeat everything that was said before and then add on. It’s a great way of testing your kids listening and memory skills while helping them to appreciate their blessings.
Active Listening Skills
Active listening involves giving your full attention to the person who is talking so that he or she knows you are interested in his or her message. Many kids today are quite adept at being “passive listeners” – they vaguely hear what’s being said without paying too much attention to the message or speaker. Active listening requires that children tune into the message and give appropriate feedback to the speaker to prove they are listening and understanding what’s being said. Such feedback could be in the form of smiling, making eye contact, nodding in agreement, making positive facial expressions or verbally responding to the instructions or request.
There are various ways of teaching kids active listening skills, both at home and in the classroom. By taking time to help your kids improve listening skills while they are young, you give them an edge in developing listening habits that will benefit their future. Here are some practical tips for teaching active listening.
- Take a personal interest in your children, getting to know their likes and dislikes, fears, vision, goals, etc. Your kids are more likely to listen to you if they know you love them and have a genuine interest in meeting their needs.
- Lecture less and listen more. There may be times when a long lecture is needed, such as to clarify misunderstandings or handle complicated issues that may arise. Otherwise, take time to listen and understand your kids’ opinions and viewpoints to help develop better communications between you.
- Make them accountable for instructions given. Once you’ve given instructions, make sure your kids realize they are accountable to following through or there will be consequences for their lack of action. Active listening should prompt some kind of response. Consequences help reinforce the need to listen and act upon the message given.
- Encourage your kids to resolve differences on their own by listening to each other’s suggestions and points of view. Once your kids become older, they will undoubtedly have their share of squabbles. Rather than stepping in to resolve their problems, encourage them to listen to one another and come up with solutions on their own. Effective listening skills are built through practice.
Reflective listening involves teaching kids empathy when they listen to others so they can respond in a caring, respectful manner. As a parent, you can set the example by listening to your kids and showing concern and understanding for their needs. Reflective listening helps you and your kids deal with emotional or personal issues of the heart. When you practice these skills with your kids, it shows them you value them as an individual and care about their personal feelings and thoughts.
Here are some of the reasons why reflective listening is an important skill for your children to develop:
- Gives your kids confidence to share their innermost feelings
- Teaches kids to respect other people’s feelings
- Provides a means for defusing uncomfortable situations at home or in school
- Reduces whining, anger and frustration as kids feel they are being understood
By practicing reflective listening with your children, you can model the behavior you want your kids to learn. Here are some characteristics of this type of listening:
- Listening quietly and without distractions to your kids
- Acknowledging your children’s feelings
- Making an effort to understand your kids’ point of view
- Avoiding interrupting your child or interjecting your point of view
- Identifying your child’s feelings by giving them a name (frustration, anger, despair, etc.)
Reflective listening can help your entire family handle relationship issues that arise at home, in school, at work or in any other type of environment. As your kids learn to listen to you and each other, they will discover better ways other than fighting or arguing to resolve differences in the home and in their school environment. When people feel they are being heard, it helps defuse their frustration and anger, making it easy to find solutions to their problems.
Children and teens have much to gain from improving their listening skills. By learning to be attentive at home and school, your kids will develop good listening habits that will benefit them well into adulthood. Through learning to listen, kids can grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding so they can evaluate situations correctly and respond in an appropriate manner. Here are some additional benefits your child can gain by being good listeners:
- Ability to follow instructions properly
- Improved attention span
- Understanding of situations around him
- Better social and communication skills
- Greater confidence to express his opinions and points of view
- Increased understanding and empathy for others
Listening is a skill that children will use all their lives, making it a worthwhile endeavor for parents to invest in their children.