By Susanne Marie Poulette, CCC-SLP
So, why doesn’t this child listen to you?
As parents, teachers, and caregivers, we may find ourselves saying this all too often. We expect our children to pay attention, listen and follow our directions.
Do as I do: Modeling = Teaching
What can we do to teach children to listen? To start, let’s look at how children typically learn to communicate. From the time that they are babies, children listen, watch, and imitate our interactions as we speak and listen to one another. Modeling good listening is then a critical step in teaching good listening.
Stop, Look, and Listen.
Do we regularly stop what we are doing, look at the child, and listen carefully with full attention? Modeling these behaviors would be the first step in helping that child to develop good listening skills. (Case in point: have you ever seen your child imitate a behavior that you are not proud of? Some children learn very fast by listening to and watching adults!)
Carl Smith provides the following clear, concise guidelines:
Guidelines For Modeling Good Listening Skills
- Be interested and attentive. Children can tell whether they have a parent’s interest and attention by the way the parent replies or does not reply. Forget about the telephone and other distractions. Maintain eye contact to show that you really are with the child.
- Encourage talking. Some children need an invitation to start talking. You might begin with, “Tell me about your day at school.” Children are more likely to share their ideas and feelings when others think them important.
- Listen patiently. People think faster than they speak. With limited vocabulary and experience in talking, children often take longer than adults to find the right word. Listen as though you have plenty of time.
- Hear children out. Avoid cutting children off before they have finished speaking. It is easy to form an opinion or reject children’s views before they finish what they have to say. It may be difficult to listen respectfully and not correct misconceptions, but respect their right to have and express their opinions.
- Listen to nonverbal messages. Many messages children send are communicated nonverbally by their tone of voice, their facial expressions, their energy level, their posture, or changes in their behavior patterns. You can often tell more from the way a child says something than from what is said. When a child comes in obviously upset, be sure to find a quiet time then or sometime that day to help explore those feelings.
Carl Smith, How Can Parents Model Good Listening Skills? Indiana University, 1992. ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills.