Listening skills: "Hey, are you listening"
What is listening?
Listening refers to one’s ability to register, process, recall and make sense of what is being said to them.
Some children seem to be chronically bad listeners. It is crucial for a child to develop good listening skills in order to cope with the demands of school and as a basis for strong literacy skills. Good listeners are more likely to follow instructions, and to be able to express their ideas well in words. Listening is related to memory, too: it is very hard to remember something that you have not heard well in the first place. In fact sometimes poor listening is wrongly described as poor memory, particularly by teachers.
Listening involves many different stages:
||How well does your child hear?
||Is your child’s aware of the sound?
||Does your child actively register and notice that information is being directed at him or her?
||How well can your child distinguish similarities and differences in sounds?
||Is your child able to identify the order of information?
||How well can your child remember and retrieve that information?
||How well does you child process and make sense of the information?
Listening can be broken down to any one of these stages, but a hearing test is often a first sensible step. Once a hearing test is completed, you can help to develop your child’s listening by using these strategies.
Good ways to give instructions and information:
Get down to your child’s level and obtain eye contact. If necessary, gently touch them on the face to turn attention to you.
Games and activities to develop listening:
- Stop what you are doing to reduce any distractions for you and your child.
- Insist that your child stops what he or she is doing and gives you full attention. Particularly if watching TV or using any kind of electronic device.
- First alert your child that they need to start listening: use their name, or a phrase you develop over time (“Earth to Sam...”). Use variety - loud, soft, high, low words- or change your accent. Take a leaf out of teacher’s books, and use sounds - a whistle, a clap....
- Break instructions into small parts - preferably never more than three. Alert each one using fingers: “Three things to do, Alex: 1,....2,.....3,......”
- Get your child to repeat back the instruction, again using fingers: “So, tell me what you have to do/get...”
- If you child can’t remember the instruction, repeat only the important words i.e. “lunch box; shoes; towel”.
- Keep instructions short. Use clear, simple words. Giving an order ( “Get your swimming bag” is likely to be more successful than “Darling, we’re running late and I’ve got a meeting to get to - hurry up and run into your room and get your swimming bag - have you packed it yet...??)
- Initially, give instructions twice. Leave a short break, alert again, warn, and give the instruction again using the identical words. Then start consequences.
- Soon, aim to give instructions only once. This is a hard one! Parents sometimes fall into the routine of repeating because they have conditioned the children to expect them to say something over and over.
- Praise and reward your child for good listening strategies and for responding after the first instruction
- Be a good listener yourself. Remember that children model what they see and hear. When a child is talking to you, pay attention: turn your face, establish eye contact, use their words when replying to let them know you have heard.
There are many activities and games that you can play with your young child to develop the auditory requirements of listening activities.
- Play listening games to identify animal or environmental sounds i.e. CD’s with animal noises or everyday sounds that occur at home or at school.
- Play guessing games i.e. have a bag with objects that make different noises i.e. bell, clock, drum etc and allow your child to guess what object is making the noise.
- Play musical instruments and get your child to copy different rhythms.
- Play clapping games and your child can copy your clapped rhythm.
- Demonstrate high and low pitched sounds, fast and slow rhythms and loud and soft sounds.
- Play games like “Simon Says” using 3-4 instructions i.e. clap your hands, snap your fingers and stamp your feet.
- Read stories to your child and ask him to listen for a certain word i.e. every time he hears the word “dog” he must make a sound like a dog or every time you say the word “happy” he must clap his hands.
- Read a familiar Nursery Rhyme to your child and leave out a word. He must recognise which word is missing.
- Playing games where blindfolds are used can help children develop a sense of directionality of sounds.
- Say 2 words to your child and ask him to say whether the words sound the same or different i.e. pop/bop; dog/dock.
- Read to your child as often as you can. During the story, pause and ask various questions to ensure your child is listening to specific details of the story.
- Play story CD’s in the car, without pictures, to encourage active listening.
- Play auditory listening games such as “I went to the shops and bought some bread”. The next person repeats your item and then adds his own. See how many words you can remember together.
If after 6 weeks of consistently using these strategies, your child’s listening has not improved, it is time to call in a professional. Your child’s teacher can help you make the right decision here:
Developing better listening skills for older children
- if your child is simply not alerting and registering your instructions at all, have hearing re - checked by a children’s audiologist
- if your child is fine in quiet spaces such a home, but struggles in noisy environments or when there is a lot of background noise, check for Auditory Processing Disorder : this assessment is completed by specialist audiologists.
- if your child appears to alert and register, but then responds in unexpected ways, showing poor sequencing, recall, or processing of the information, check for language difficulties: assessment by a Speech Pathologist
- if your child seems to listen and register, but then persist in doing what they want to, see a Psychologist for attention difficulties.
There are reasons why children ranging from 8 year old to teens don't appear to listen to their parents. When you ask them why they don’t listen:
- They say everything their parents say to them is boring
- They complain that parents talk over their heads.
- They say that parents don't understand children's thoughts, feelings and views.
- They regard their parents' communication as critical, judgmental and nagging.
- They associate their parents with constantly being told what to do.
- They believe parents harp on things they don't want to hear.
- They assume they know what their parents will say, so they don't bother to listen.
There are several things you can do to improve your children's listening habits and get them to listen to you. Here are some suggestions:
Start teaching listening skills early.
It's never too late to start teaching these skills, since there's always room for improvement. But try to begin as early as possible. As children grow older, have "listening times" when you block out distractions. This includes switching the TV and electronic games off. If sitting still and talking is not your child’s thing, then go for a walk or a drive instead.
Listen to your children in the way you like to be listened to.
Be a good role model by hearing things in their words and making them feel important while they are talking to you. Reflect on their ideas, and encourage them, even if you don’t agree with them.
Let your child complete what he is saying.
"It's a waste of time to talk to my parents," a teenager pointed out. "They stop me while I'm speaking to say 'don't talk like that' or they break in and change the subject to something on their minds."
Set a good example by establishing eye contact with your child.
Children feel you're not listening when you're glancing out the window or peering across the room. Eye contact is of value from the earliest age, so teach your children to give and receive it by meeting them at their own eye level when you are saying something to them and when they are speaking to you.
Watch your tone of voice and facial expression.
Too often your voice and expression speak as loudly as your words, and if you are bored or cross while your children are talking, they're likely to react the same way to you while you are speaking to them.
Teach your children to indicate by their actions that they are listening.
Along with showing by your expression that you're paying attention to them, guide your children into showing by their expressions that they are listening to you. Actually when people say, "If only you would listen," they really mean "If only you'd show that you're listening."
Talk to your child about their interests.
Talk to your child about their current activities. Find out what they are interested in and develop your knowledge. If it’s a sport, watch it and read about it in the newspaper. For an activity such as surfing or music, buy specialist magazines. Learn how to play that computer game that is such an irritation. Memorise all the Yu - Gi - Oh characters from the website........
Know when to talk and when not to talk.
There are times to keep quiet, so develop your sensitivity. Wait until a teenager demonstrates a readiness to talk before you expect him to listen to your well-intentioned words. When a child comes home after a bad day in school, don't get on his back immediately with something you want him to hear.
Reward your children occasionally when they display good listening habits.
If children show they are good listeners, they should have an occasional reward. Giving them positive, specific feedback, attention and praise are very effective. In this way, if their attention span is short or they're easily distracted they see that if they listen and follow through on what you say, there may be an external reward at the end. Pretty soon, there is also an internal reward, as they learn that listening to you helps them to accomplish their goals.
|Listening skills are vital to communicate with others. Children who can listen effectively are more successful as friends and as learners. Although these skills can be learned, they begin developing in infancy. Parents can provide many opportunities for children to develop their listening skills, and to encourage active listening in older children. You have the tools to help your child become a better listener - and so become a better communicator, too.
Jenni Pearce, Psychologist (2009)
Child & Educational Psychology
6 Edward Street, NORWOOD 5067 South Australia, Australia.
Telephone: 0407 726 332
Fax: (08) 8362 0332