Listen Up!

1984 Following my 3 year old daughter’s dance class, her teacher pulled my husband aside and expressed that her listening skills could use some improvement.  Though we were keenly aware that listening wasn’t her strong suit at home, we naively hoped this issue didn’t extend beyond our household.  However, it was ultimately just the feedback we needed for us to make a more concerted effort to help our daughter improve her listening skills. 
Poor listening or noncompliance is one of the most common concerns expressed by parents of toddlers.  It is also one of the most valuable skills children need to learn, as good listening skills help your child learn more effectively, heed dangers signals, get along better with you, teachers, and other adults that they will need to respect.  Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources in which parents can draw upon to aid them in this important endeavor.   Commonly cited tips include getting on your child’s level, being clear, following through quickly, reinforcing your message, giving warnings and realistic instructions, providing motivation, modeling good behavior, and catching your child being good. 

What resonated the most for me is this habit that parents often fall victim to which is repeating the same message multiple times.  If a parent says something 10 times it becomes the countdown to punishment.  That behavior conditions the child not to listen until the tenth time.  As parents, we need to make it clear that we mean what we say and don’t make threats or promises you won’t keep.  Following through on consequences that is consistent and predictable is an important step to help teach children how to pay attention. 

1985 The manner in which you relay your message is also important in terms of proximity and delivery.  When relaying an important message don’t be in another room managing multiple tasks.  Your child is less likely to recognize the importance of what you are saying and you are less likely to follow-through with accountability.  Additionally, children are multi-sensory learners, so get on their level, look them in the eye, speak clearly and precisely, and lightly hold them by their hands or shoulders to get their attention.  
Teaching listening skills doesn’t have to be an arduous process for both parties.  Make it fun by incorporating games that foster good listening skills.  Some of our families’ favorites include:

Flashlight Tag:  In the evening grab a flashlight, turn down the lights and challenge your child to follow your direction.  “Can you shine your light on the clock, painting, family photo ….?”   Or have them follow your lead by shining your light on an object and asking if they can do it too.  1982

Treasure Hunt:  Provide instruction to search for a hidden prize.  Whether the search is to find their favorite stuffed animal or possibly a special treat, the mystery of the hunt will be equally as satisfying.  Help teach about objects and color, “Look behind the red chair”.   In addition to learning to follow direction, this game also strengthens memory muscle in order to complete the search. 

Red Light, Green Light:  A classic childhood favorite which is a game that is particularly good for enhancing listening skills by providing starting and stopping directions based on the color stated.  1983

Walkie Talkie Adventure:  You can take the treasure hunt to the next level by incorporating walkies to your treasure hunt.  My daughter could play this game for hours on end.  I instruct her to go to a room in the house and complete a certain task (i.e. recite your ABCs or count to 10) and/or find a particular object and bring it to me.  You’ll be amazed by how well you child can listen!

Good listening skills don’t happen overnight and the messaging will need to be reiterated time and time again but one that is worth doing for a more harmonious household, classroom, and childhood. 

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MaryAnn Viviano, Business Operations Director, has been with Kidspace Children’s Museum since 2004.  Prior experience includes working for the American Red Cross after receiving a BA in Communications from the University of Texas at Austin.