Getting Kids to Listen

Little boy holding a can with a cord to his ear and listening

Help your children learn to listen carefully. Here are some ideas for doing this from parents like you:

Practical Listening Skills

Four-year-old Charlie galloped down the hall on his stick horse, oblivious to my instructions. Following him to his imaginary corral, I touched his shoulder and said, "Charlie, look at me." While he stared into my eyes, I slowly repeated my instructions: "In five minutes, you will put away your horse so we can go to the store. Can you please repeat what I just said?"

Charlie looked startled and confused. He asked, "What?" It seemed he hadn't heard any of it!

Charlie didn't have a hearing problem, but he had difficulty concentrating on instructions that he didn't feel were important. Riding his stick horse trumped Mom's talking.

Since both his safety and future relationships with teachers and employers would depend on better listening skills, I crafted a plan to help him practice:

Tallies for tosses.

I carried a paper in my pocket to tally every time Charlie carried out my instructions with an "OK, Mom." When my husband came home, he lifted Charlie in a playful toss, which Charlie loved — one toss for each and every successful "OK" of the day.

Playtime practice.

We played listening games such as Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light, and we read storybooks out loud. In addition, we role-played school — which we called the Listen to the Teacher game. Most important, we played Stop and Look at Mom. Whenever I called his name and he stopped and looked at me, I affirmed his quick reaction.

Raising a good listener took time, but eventually Charlie did improve. Six years later, I stood on the sideline of a soccer game watching Charlie play.

I yelled, "Go, Charlie!" as he dribbled past me toward the goal. To my surprise, Charlie instantly stopped and looked at me. The sound of his mother's voice had caught his attention — and ruined the soccer play. Yet in that moment I realized that our hard work had paid off. Charlie had listened. Score!

—Rita Bergen

How Little Ears Hear

For infants, each day brings new discoveries. They learn about language long before they utter their first word. The most influential teachers of language skills are a child's parents. Many naturally talk to their infants in a distinctive way that has been termed "infant-directed speech." Infants — from birth to 4 months — are most responsive and grow in their linguistic prowess when parents:

  • speak slowly
  • speak in short sentences with longer pauses
  • use higher and variable pitches

—Dr. Lainna Callentine, member of Focus on the Family's Physicians Resource Council

The compiled article "Getting Kids to Listen" first appeared on (2018). "Practical Listening Skills" and "How Little Ears Hear" first appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"Practical Listening Skills" © 2018 by Rita Bergen. "How Little Ears Hear" © 2018 by Lainna Callentine. Used by permission.

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