Few things are more frustrating for tired mommies than having the same requests fall on non-listening ears over and over again. The tension rises until voices are raised and, inevitably, feelings are hurt. It's a scene that plays out in many homes almost every day.

Toddlers and preschoolers are notorious selective listeners. They have toys to play with and projects to create, and they often ignore requests that interfere with their plans.

Although it's frustrating when kids don't listen, kids aren't likely to retain words and lessons used in anger.

Children with good listening skills perform better in school, are more successful in personal relationships and exhibit better frustration tolerance. Bottom line: It's important to teach kids how to listen.

The most important part of teaching listening skills to young children is to stay calm. Although it's frustrating when kids don't listen, kids aren't likely to retain words and lessons used in anger. The best time to teach listening skills is not when your child isn't listening but when you and your child have a quiet moment together.

Get low

The world is a big, and sometimes scary, place for little kids. It's hard to truly listen and focus with distractions around every corner and angry parents barking out the same orders on repeat. Meet your child at eye level and make sure that she meets your gaze before you start talking. Keep your voice calm and even, and provide instructions in as few steps as possible. Remember, just because your child is capable of multi-step directions doesn't mean that she will follow them every single time.

Repeat back

It's a good idea to get into the habit of asking your child to repeat your requests back to you. When children have to repeat a set of instructions, it forces them to stop and focus on those instructions and ask for clarification if necessary. It's also a good idea to turn the tables and repeat back requests that your child makes of you. It shows her that you're listening and that we all need clarification once in a while.

Listen carefully

Life is busy and it's easy to become distracted with work, email, laundry, cooking or just about anything else. Parenting is hard work. But it's nearly impossible to raise good listeners if we don't take the time to listen to our children. Put the smartphone down for a while so that you can actively engage with your child. Show your child that you are listening by maintaining eye contact, asking follow-up questions and taking an interest in her stories.

Play games

Believe it or not, teaching listening skills can be a lot of fun! Children respond well to learning through games and play. Now is the time to take advantage of that.

  • Continuous story: Telling a story as a family is a great way to practice active listening skills. Sit around the table and have each person say one sentence that builds upon the one before it. It forces kids to listen to what was said, think about something that relates to it and add to the story. Eye contact and quiet focus are crucial here!
  • Simon Says: Simon Says is one of the best listening skills games around, and you don't need a classroom full of preschoolers to play it. Children have to listen and watch for the direction, listen for the special cue ("Simon Says") and then perform an action. Keep it fun with silly directions and be sure to let the kids take turns being Simon.
  • Obstacle course: Creating a multi-step obstacle course is a great way to combine listening skills and exercise. Hopping, hula hooping and crawling under pillows makes for a fun way to listen and follow directions. Bonus tip: I like to add check-in stations to repeat the next direction along the way.

More on social skills

Keeping the peace during a playdate
Teaching independence through play
Solving common playtime battles

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Maureen Wallace March 02, 2013
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Katie, these are fantastic tips. I have to remind myself to slow down and speak clearly with my son with special needs, but I need to give my daughter the same consideration. It's hard when we're in the full throes of our daily chaos, but these reminders are excellent.
Angela Amman March 01, 2013
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I adore the continuous story idea. Of course Abbey already plays that one... with herself :)