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Teaching children to listen…

Teaching children to listenTeaching children to listen is very important. Listening – not hearing – is one of the key skills needed for learning but believe it or not, less than 2% of people have had any formal education on how to listen!  Children rarely develop good listening skills by chance and parents far too often find they are repeating themselves, getting frustrated and feeling as though they need to nag to get anything done. This can lead to stress, strain and upset for all, never mind the stress and underachievement at school because of it. It is my experience that by actively teaching children to listen we improve their achievement at school and their feelings of satisfaction, confidence and self worth. Parents and teachers heave a sigh of relief and everyone feels a whole lot better!

Teaching children to listen

Teaching children to listen requires your child develop good listening skills I recommend you start with a conversation about it. Below is a starting point to get the process going.  If you let your child’s teacher know what you are trying to teach them and what you hope to achieve, they will be able to give you every support and follow through at school. They may also have a few tips of their own to make the job easier!

To get good listening skills, children first need to understand the difference between listening and hearing.

You may find that looking in a dictionary for the definition of HEAR and LISTEN will be useful as well as asking the child what they think each one means.

I asked a 6 year old boy what he thought listening was and he immediately arched his back, put a finger on his lips (as if saying sssshhhh) and folded his arms while looking around the room to see what his brother was doing!

Children often learn and can tell you the behaviour of listening without any real idea what they are meant to do in terms of inner focus and attention and this is what we need to make clear for them.

To be good listeners, children need to understand that hearing is inevitable, providing there is no hearing loss*, but listening is a skill that we develop. Listening is not automatic and because it is a skill that we develop, it is something we can get better at!

Setting little targets

When you start to focus on listening as a skill that can improve, you can set little targets for the children to help them improve it. One exercise I use is to ask them to repeat word for word a simple sentence such as ‘We are going to have chicken, green beans and mashed potato for dinner.’  You would be amazed how few children (including up to 10 yrs old) can do this word for word. They may say ‘We are going to have chicken, beans and potato for dinner’. They may have the gist of it, but they will miss words or substitute words depending on how well they listened.  Knowing we are working on developing their listening skill, we will repeat this exercise until they manage to do it word perfect – to much applause and giggles. The children actually love these little practise exercises  because they are achievable bite-sized targets and soon competence and confidence builds. Obviously, the exercise is adapted according to the age of the child.

Keep the exercises short and don’t worry about the mistakes. Mistakes really don’t matter. What matters is that your child gets a success and feels they are achieving. You get a chance to say ‘Yay, well done!’ when you see their achievement and that makes everybody feel good!

It would be great to hear how you and your child get on with listening! Good luck and thank you for reading.

© Gail Hugman

1st March 2015

* hearing can be intermittently affected by colds, glue ear and even flying. If in doubt, get it checked!

For more help with teaching children to listen book a Lessons Alive Listening Workshop for parents.

  1. Hi Gail. That was a good read! Thanks for the tip – I will be playing that listening game with my boy from now on. 🙂

  2. Lovely blog post and of course especially interesting as I have a young child, but I reckon it can be a bit of an eye opener for us adults too – to think of hearing as inevitable but listening as a skill. Whilst listening skills are of course pivotal to my job as a coach, I’d underestimated how much ‘poor listeners’ can develop this, if they chose to. I might get my somewhat distracted dad to play the listening game with my daughter – I wonder who will learn the most! 🙂

    • Thank you, Charlotta. I agree that it is a very complex skill and much neglected! When I developed my parent workshop about teaching listening, I was amazed to discover that what I originally thought would be a two hour workshop, actually developed into a 4-5 hour workshop! It is a critical skill and parents who come to the workshop often remark at the end that it has been a real eye-opener for them, too. Thank you for your comment. Feedback is always appreciated! And good luck with the listening game 🙂

  3. I was in a conversation with someone recently. I realized that whilst I had been making the right noises (or at least I hope I had) that I actually couldn’t say for certain what they had been telling me. I really hate it when this happens. I can’t help wondering just how much we are all missing….

    • Thanks, Edward. I think you’re making a really good point there. I sometimes read and find I’ve got to the end of the page and don’t know what I’ve read, so need to go back. I’m sure you’ll have developed the skills to spot and manage this better. This is what children need to learn.

  4. Oh I have a daughter for whom this is going to be useful. Thank you Gail, brilliant as always!

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