It’s almost every momma’s parenting lament: that their kids don’t listen to them. It might seem like your questions, comments, and even advice falls on deaf ears, but there are things you can to do to get your kids to listen to you. In fact, it might be even easier than you think.
If you thought that your child’s natural ability to listen is something that will happen eventually, think again. “It’s important to teach your child to listen as an everyday social skill when communicating with others as well as for development of reading, expressive language, and comprehension for academic learning,” says says Amy Baez, MOT, OTR/L, a pediatric occupational therapist. “The act of listening begins even before birth, so the earlier you practice the better the skill will be.”
And being a good listener is important for several reasons. “First, good listening means you care – which is essential to building healthy relationships,” says Laine Lipsky, a parenting coach, founder of connectED parent training, and author of The Yelling Cure. “Second, attentive listening leads to following instructions, which is important in school and work. Third, active listening provides a pathway for learning new information, which is an essential life skill.”
So now that you know how important listening is, see if you can spruce up your child’s listening skills with these tips.
“It’s fair to say that 3-5-year-olds are touch-and-go when it comes to listening,” says Lipsky. “They are still in a huge development phase of their brains and wobble in and out of their abilities frequently. This can be frustrating, especially when parents don’t know how the human brain works.” That’s why you can’t really expect consistency when it comes to your child paying attention on a permanent basis.
Set The Stage
If you thought that good listening happened was only your child’s responsibility, think again. In fact, a big part of it comes down to things that you can control, such as your kid’s current physical state. “While a strong-willed child may have trouble following directions in general, even an even-tempered child will have a harder time paying attention when she or he is tired and/or hungry,” says Lipsky. “Keeping everyone well-rested, hydrated, and well-fed will increase a child’s ability to listen and cooperate.”
Parents can lead by example to help enforce good listening skills. “They can demonstrate good eye contact, gesture to objects, and regular engage their child in conversations where they can ask and answer questions,” says Lipsky. By mirroring positive behavior, your child will know what it means to be a good listener beyond just the words she’s hearing.
Read To Your Child
Listening skills don’t always come from conversations. You can boost your child’s ability to pay attention by breaking open a book and reading. “Increase the amount of time practicing listening skills by also reading to your child,” says Baez. “And then decrease the time spent using electronics.” As you tell the story, your child will learn to listen naturally — and more effectively, too.
Be A Good Listener
If you want your child to improve her listening skills, you’ll need to model good behavior, too. “When your child is talking to you, put down the phone or close the computer,” says Lipsky. “Make eye contact and really listen. Follow through on their requests to show that good listening means taking action.”
Give Simple Instructions
Giving complicated directions can not only be confusing, but also make it harder for your child to listen. “Getting your kids to listen is a process,” says Anna M. Aquino, the author of Confessions of a Ninja Mom. “Tell them plainly what you want them to do.” Use basic instructions –i.e. “Please put the plates on the table,” or “Turn off the TV, please.” And then if they don’t follow instructions, you can always stop what you’re doing and model it for them so that they are better able to understand what you expect from them.
A big part of positively reinforcing listening skills is rewarding your child for doing it. But that doesn’t mean that they get a prize or a toy just because they brushed their teeth on time. “Make sure to praise your child when they do things correctly,” advises Aquino. That way, they’ll be more likely to want to repeat the behavior — and get that extra hug from you.
Although there is no magic age for a child to start listening, you can encourage it from the onset by listening to your child. That way, you’re showing her that her words matter just as much as yours do.