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Teach your kids listening skills (the REAL ABC’s)

“Michelle, why are you still coloring your face with the red marker?” asked Mrs. Johnson. “We are lining up to go to lunch, didn’t you hear the instructions?”

Ask any teacher what their number one complaint is and I’m pretty sure it will be the stress associated with the lack of listening skills in their students. It isn’t anything new. Nevertheless, it seems to be getting worse. The lack of listening skills is a major challenge in the classroom as well as in the home. It is the cornerstone for developing interpersonal relationships and yet it is one of the most neglected language skills in teaching environments. It is the other half of good verbal skills, it completes the cycle of communication, and it begins as early as two years of age.

Your two, three, four and five-year-old may have just started some type of education program, or even a new activity, for the very first time — maybe returning as a semi-pro. Either way, practice a few things to do in class now that will help them get off on the right foot. More importantly, you can watch as you teach your child these things and you will see them gain confidence in honing this new skill.

1. Teach them how to listen and demonstrate why it is necessary for good communication with others. Make it fun and try a new game: tell them to talk, sit down and be quiet. Talk, sit down and be quiet. Talk, sit down and be quiet. Do it with them with about five seconds in between. Move it to 10 seconds and then 15. Giggles are allowed! It’s repetition for this age group that helps them to learn a skill.

2. Make another game out of it using a favorite doll or action figure. Storytelling is one of the very best ways to practice this skill. Let the doll or action figure tell a story. Then let the child practice by holding the item and let them tell a story. When you talk, show them how to pay attention and listen. When they talk, show them how you are quiet and pay attention. Take turns repeating the story to each other to test their skills — keep it fun.

3. Read to your child. This interaction teaches how to listen and helps practice the process while ensuring the child has an amusing experience. Before you begin, tell the child that you are going to zip their lips and then pretend to do it. Tell them you are going to lock the zipper and throw away the key. When they want to say something, get the pretend key and unlock the pretend lock and unzip the pretend zipper and let them talk. Of course, to be sure that they get it; they will want to zip and lock your mouth, and then unlock and unzip it too.

4. Encourage good listening skills by doing some of the following:


  • Establish a purpose for the communication
  • Always have good eye contact by getting down on their level while talking
  • Try to speak about an interesting or favorite topic
  • Try not to stop what is being said for interruptions unless there is a question about it
  • Offer nonverbal and verbal responses
  • Divide listening and talking roles
  • Pay close attention to what is being said and offer an opinion on it
  • Ask the child to repeat what you have already talked about but do so without drilling
  • Don’t forget to be attentive when they are talking as well
    Even if your child is not entering school or childcare, begin teaching them listening skills anyway. It’s a good idea to get started on this as soon as possible. If you do, interaction and communication in playgroups, on play dates, in school, and in many other places will be less stressful and more productive in the end. Childcare providers, camp directors, teachers, coaches and other parents will love you for it, guaranteed.
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