Teaching Your Child Listening Skills

A belief is floating around that says children today are ruder, more ignorant, and generally less respectful of their elders than they were in pre-electronic device days. “Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn’t have anything to do with it”, said pioneering child psychologist Haim Ginott.

Are children’s listening skills declining as a side effect of the 21st century? More importantly, does a child of yours languish in poor listening and what can you do to improve their listening skills?

21st Century’s Affect on Listening

Evidence suggests that children’s listening skills have degraded in recent years. Many studies (such as ones listed in USA Today and MSNBC) conclude today’s children suffer from a lowered attention span due to activities like television and computer games. Peter Jensen at the National Institute of Mental Health concludes: “Extensive exposure to television and video games may promote development of brain systems that scan and shift attention at the expense of those that focus attention.”

If you have children, I’m sure sometimes you feel talking to them is like chatting to a brick wall. Children at times shrug you off, ignoring what you have to say. Parents think the solution to poor listening skills comes down to discipline. They may yell at the child or spank them for not paying attention.

The problem is beyond discipline, however. Some children cannot fix their attention on one thing for long periods of time. They have no chance to effectively listen when they cannot build their focus and develop other fundamental skills through interactions with peers and adults.

Television and other solo activities fail to foster a child’s fundamental talking and listening skills. Children sit in front of a gaming console, computer, or television then become mind-slaves to the device. They “switch off” their brain into the rapid, hypnotic pace these devices deliver.

Computer games and other highly immersive activities require high concentration levels and skill to play. When concentration and skill blend, time distorts to form an internal state of enjoyment behavioral psychologists call “flow”. Most people who’ve played a computer game will describe the flow state when they say hours fly by in apparently a short period of time.

Television and other solo activities fail to foster a child’s fundamental talking and listening skills.

Flow can be addictive. It is more enjoyable than following Dad’s orders. The change of pace from a Mario game to hearing a parent complain about undone homework is slow, boring, and annoying. A computer and television deliver sounds and visuals more captivating than a nagging parent. However, are computer games and other 21st century influences to blame for these problems?

I don’t know if computer games directly contribute to poor listening – though research hints at a correlation – but I do know that a lack of interaction develops poor listening. Computer games and similar gadgets cause children to develop poor listening skills when their number of interactions dwindle. Communication skills take practice.

Look at this issue of focus and language development instead of thinking poor discipline causes a child to poorly listen. The first thing you can do to teach your child better listening skills is to help them make better choices of activities to participate in during the day. Aim to develop your child’s patience so he or she at least has the chance to pay attention to a person who speaks.

Activities such as computer games are not evil. A total ban is unnecessary, but moderation is required. Reducing the amount of electronic stimulation helps develop the child’s social skills because of more face-to-face interaction. In addition, it increases the chance of improving your child’s health from less time spent sitting down. Follow President George Bush’s cheeky advice when he said, “They put an off button on the TV for a reason. Turn it off.”

Schools Encourage Poor Listening Skills

In addition to activities such computer games hurting children’s listening skills, schools are also to blame. Keep this quiet from your children. They will use it as another excuse to not go to school! I would have.

School teachers speak in front of students for long periods of time. The listening to speaking ratio is severely imbalanced. Children are required to keep quite and pay attention – so-called “listening” – as they associate good listening with not interrupting and not saying a word, which creates “mindless” hearing in their relationship communication.

If you are a teacher, one of the best things you can do is randomly call out students to briefly summarize what you have said and reward them for good, attentive listening. When a child does not listen, you could be the cause because teachers can be boring!

Unless you are a teacher, unfortunately, there is little you can do about the speaking to listening ratio in classrooms. Nonetheless, it helps to be aware of its affect on your child’s listening skills.

Fun Listening Activities for Your Child

Activities, fun, and games are some of the best ways to teach children. You can integrate children’s favorite learning style into helping them improve their listening skills. I have come up with some practical listening activities you can do with children to improve their listening skills:

  • Read to your child then have him or her talk to you about what you read. Children’s understanding of books are abstract (though sometimes you’ll be surprised at their intelligence) and lead to seemingly unrelated tangents drawn from their experiences, but that is irrelevant. Your goal in this exercise is to build a relationship and help them focus. This activity is also excellent activity because the lessons in the book builds a child’s knowledge. You may even want to buy a children’s book where the characters learn to listen!
  • Not so much an activity as it is a skill, but teach your child to listen non-verbally. Too often children get distracted. Have them maintain reasonable eye-contact with the speaker and develop other non-verbal skills such as facing you, not fidgeting, and maintaining good posture where appropriate. These skills will boost their self-confidence and social skills.
  • When you say something to your child throughout the day, ask your child to say his or her understanding of what you said. A perfect rehashing of your words is superfluous; you are only after the main meaning of the message.
  • You can make a game if you have several children. Have someone talk in front of the other children. At the end, ask a question about something from the talk. The child with the best answer can get a reward. Watch how closely the children listen!

How to Teach Your Child Better Listening Through Modeling

Another way to teach your child to listen is by developing your listening skills. Monkey see, monkey do. Here are some ideas to help you become a good role model:

Family Transmission of Listening Sins

Adults and children make common listening mistakes. If you make them, your child could mimic you. Avoid committing these six sins of listening to help your child effectively listen:

  1. Poor attention span
  2. Worry, anxiety, and other emotional barriers distort what you hear
  3. A careless attitude that reflects selfishness blocks communication
  4. Nonverbal attempts to fake listening
  5. Filling in the words for other people
  6. Forecasting what you want to say when you need to be listening
  • Avoid interruption. When someone says something we disagree with, we love to interrupt and prove them wrong. As a parent, you may be vulnerable to use your authority over you child by interrupting them. Hear your child and they will be less likely to interrupt you.
  • Be honest. Just like adults, children can see when you do not listen. Be attentive and honest in your listening. Do not trick children into thinking you are listening when you are actually planning what to eat for dinner. Have good body language with an authentic mindset of truly understanding the child.
  • Have patience. You cannot expect your child to be patient and attentively listen to you when you cannot be patient yourself. Avoid filling in what a child is trying to say. Children take longer than adults to say what is on their mind.
  • Be together. By interacting and building a relationship with your children, they spend more time with you. The more time you have in their lives, the more influential you become.
  • Additional resources. Learn more effective listening skills from other articles on my ToP blog to improve your listening and become better role model for your child.

Spend time with your child to develop their knowledge, listening skills, focus, and your relationship. Adults who use the activities provided earlier and develop their own listening skills, become an excellent role model. It is harder to do than plonking them in front of the television, but the rewards of raising a socially intelligent child are worth the effort.

While the 21st century may hurt a child’s listening skills, you can help your little one overcome communication difficulties presented by the modern world. Help your children acquire vital communication skills most adults fail to develop. Teach your child listening skills today to improve your family’s togetherness and provide the child with foundational communication skills that last a lifetime.

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Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"

Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/

Comments

Kanan V. Jaswal
Reply

Dear Joshua,

As usual, an article full of brilliant insights! Both my children are now young men, how I wish you or someone else had written and I had read this article 20 to 25 years back! But there is still hope as I am going to work upon myself to be a model listener, if not for my sons then for some other youngsters. Huge Thanks!

Seseselelo
Reply

As I read through this I thought about my kids, aged 9, 5 and 18 months respectively and how lucky I am to be discovering this now, I hope I am not too late for the older ones. Thank you for sharing these and will practice them, starting with me.

Michael
Reply

Great article! It still all falls back on us the parents. We need to pay attention as well and play an active role in our child’s development. We may have to look deeper into ourselves and ask ourselves are we doing enough? If not, we must help rectify the issue immediately for our children’s future. We are all so busy, but we must make the time and focus on our children.

Meera
Reply

Dear Joshua,

Great article. I came across this when I was little worried on my 8 year old son’s listening skills. I’m a lot releived and I have the answer. Thanks a ton.
Meera

Sowrirajan
Reply

:smile: Dear Joshua, Thanks to you. I am going to try these tips with my 9 1/2 year old son. What you have said in your article is absolutely right in my case as well. I understand that I need to correct and develop the ability of listening, before I expect the same from my son. This is true to all level, including dealing with adults. I would be happy if you could suggest a solution to develop involvement in sports activities. I would like to know if hormonal imbalance causes any problem w.r.t concentration and so on.

Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Reply

Sowrirajan, I’m guessing you’re curious about sports involvement to encourage more socializing? You’d have to consult a doctor to see if a hormonal imbalance can cause a problem with sport involvement. I’ll answer your question with regard to what was mentioned in the article.

If a child competes at sports with others and isn’t up to decent relative level, the flow state breaks. The child experiences a lot of anxiety. You’d need to come up with ways to make sport activities challenging enough so he believes he can do the activity. Playing a one-on-one game of basketball against a state champion may cause anxiety. Trying to shoot the ball in the hoop may be enough of a challenge.

Michelle
Reply

Hi Joshua,
Great article! I was having a moment of difficulty in paying attention, myself, while studying, and thought I’d take a break and see what was out there on the subject. I found it useful to reflect upon and relate it to students in a classroom setting.
Thanks!

Iresha
Reply

good work 😛

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