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.
The following post is a reprint of an article which provides my update on Whole Body Listening, published in ADVANCE. You can visit the site for a “multimedia refresher” as well. Click HERE to go there.
Whole-Body Listening Updated
Applications of this active-listening lesson for children often omit key points
By Susanne Poulette Truesdale, MS in Ed, CCC-SLP
It has been 23 years since “Whole-Body Listening: Developing Active Auditory Skills” was published in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. Since then, many applications of these listening lessons have emerged in classrooms and therapy rooms.
Books and materials – creative coloring pages, worksheets, diagrams and wall posters – on Whole-Body Listening have been published on educators’ and parenting websites and blogs.
These diagrams, unfortunately, often omit the most critical part of Whole-Body Listening, the brain. Correspondingly, the instruction to think about what the speaker is saying may be missing or too abbreviated.
When we ask someone to think about what we are saying, we are in essence asking for the listener’s brain to be connected, tuned-in, to the spoken message. In other words, we are asking the listener to put his or her mind to ours as we speak.
Linking the listener’s mind to the speaker’s words is a key to active listening. This direct request guides a child to learn how to listen, and therefore, how to attend by developing and practicing active listening. As children’s attention spans naturally increase with their development, their active listening skills have more opportunity for growth through the reinforcement of practice.
It is important to be clear and use the correct description of listening with the brain. Often we abbreviate sentences to form catchphrases that are easy to remember. It is best not to shorten this cue to “The brain is thinking,” as seen on many diagrams and in preset poems based on Whole-Body Listening.
Children need a careful, but simple explanation: “My brain is thinking about what the speaker is saying.”
This can help engage a child’s attention to listen, reducing daydreaming or thinking of things entirely disconnected from the speaker. Shortened to “My brain is thinking,” a child might assume that thinking about anything is listening with the brain, and delight in thinking of a new computer game, what the family dog is doing, and the list goes on.
Thinking as Tangible Action
The point of Whole-Body Listening is for each body part to be tangible enough for a child to have some degree of control, even if for a short time.
A typical child can identify with his or her eyes, mouth, hands, feet, and seat. This gives them concrete, purposeful, doing behaviors in order to listen. The brain concept, the most important part of Whole-Body Listening, is less concrete, but provides a tool for listening and attending.
For example, if we ask a child to think of a dog, he or she would probably form some mental image or idea of a dog from previous experience. This presumes, of course, that a child has sufficient developmental ability to control what he or she is thinking.
Whole-Body Listening is meant to be simple enough for kindergarteners and first graders to understand. The lessons in the original article were developed with the ideas, comments, questions, and problem-solving of first semester, first-grade speech-and-language-impaired children working with the author. The children in this group demonstrated periods of control over their eyes, mouths, hands, feet, and seats.
With instruction and concrete cues, the children worked to manage what they thought about as they listened. Listening with the brain then provided a conscious doing behavior.
Difference between Listening & Hearing
The original Whole-Body Listening article did not include the heart as one of the parts of the body in learning how to listen. This was apparently added later as a creative proponent of Whole-Body Listening.
It has been explained that adding the heart signifies listening as a caring and polite act that teaches children to listen respectfully. Some professionals use this pleasant concept in teaching social language skills, which is a different goal. But as a listening goal, can we suppose that children have tangible control over their hearts? The heart doesn’t link to a doing behavior, such as thinking of a certain item, or managing the eyes, mouth, hands , and seat.
It is important to understand that when children use the Whole-Body Listening, as first described in 1990, then, they are listening respectfully. Bryant H. McGill wrote, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
If the goal is to teach to children listening skills – that is, how to listen – then it is advisable to begin with the tangible doing behaviors with corresponding parts of the body.
Similarly the original article did not include the ears as a part of Whole-Body Listening because children cannot carry out a physical action, or actively do something with their ears, unless they are very talented and can wiggle them.
The lesson in the original article states, “When we hear a sound, we use our ears. When we try very hard to listen, we need to use more than our ears. We also listen with our brain, eyes, mouth, hands, feet, and even our seat!” Thus, the difference between hearing and listening is introduced.
Cautions to Consider
There are two important cautions to consider when using Whole-Body Listening lessons with students.
First graders at Hillside Elementary School, Niskayuna, NY, brush up on Whole-Body Listening with author Susanne Poulette Truesdale, MS in Ed, CCC-SLP.
View the students at work and get take-home lessons to apply Whole-Body Listening in your classroom.
First, we need to be cognizant of children’s developmental readiness in terms of attention span. At any age, we do not expect full Whole-Body Listening for lengthy periods, although we would greatly appreciate it. Expectations should be carefully considered with a child’s developmental level in mind.
Second is the concern for children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. “Listening with the eyes,” which is essentially eye contact, should be modified or deleted depending on the child’s individual needs and goals. Sensitivity, application of current knowledge of ASD , and professional judgment govern this part of Whole-Body Listening.
Colleagues are encouraged to continue using the tools of Whole-Body Listening; to be creative and share their success with colleagues in order to enrich the lives of children with better listening in academic and social milieus.
Welcome to your resource center for Whole Body Listening lessons, videos, music, books, and miles of information. This site strives to assemble some of the best resources for WBL on the web, and I would love to hear from you if you have ideas, lessons, strategies, or if you can recommend published sources that you have found helpful in teaching listening skills.
Please enjoy touring this site and learning about the origin of WBL. As you explore the pages here, I hope you will find something new that you can use to help children learn to listen. Thanks for stopping by and please come back for updates. ~ Susanne