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Teaching Your Child Listening Skills

20 December 2006 | 14:58 | Conversation Skills, Interpersonal Relationships, Parenting | 3 Comments
Teaching Your Child Listening Skills - photo courtesy of Anissa Thompson

There’s a general “theory” floating around that children are becoming ruder, more ignorant, and generally less respecting of their elders. It doesn’t stop there however. Many people also think society is degrading with how everyone treats one another. We’re cutting each off in traffic, yelling abuse, ignoring others, and no longer helping the elderly lady walk across the street.

I’m not the type of person to criticize and talk about these societal issues because there’s a point where a person just discusses and complains about topics for no greater result than to vent their emotions. I prefer to focus on issues within personal reach, take action, and change a smaller problem then complaining about everything as a whole and doing nothing about it. You should accept this mindset to. You’ll be happy you did.

Are children really becoming less attentive these days? Are children’s listening skills degrading possibly as a side effect of the 21st century? More importantly, are your children whom you have the power to change, suffering from poor listening?

21st Century’s Effects on Listening

Many studies (such as listed in USA Today, MSNBC, and University of Oregon) conclude children are suffering from a lowered attention span due to activities such as television and computer games. Peter Jensen at the National Institute of Mental Health concluded:

“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, you would often feel like you are talking to a brick wall. Children at times shrug you off ignoring what you have to say. The problem goes beyond discipline issues as some children do not pay attention for expected periods of time due to focusing problems. They do not even have the chance to effectively listen when they cannot focus.

When you think about it, does your child talk much when watching television or playing computer games?

Unless they provide commentary and annoy everyone else around them (that was aimed at my youngest brother :)) you probably answered “not much at all”. They will sit in front of a gaming console, computer, or television and become ‘mind slaves’ to the device as they ‘switch off’ their mind into the rapid, hypnotic pace these devices deliver. Of course, we do listen while watching yet the devices deliver sound at a greater speed that is considerably more entertaining to children then the sound of nagging parents talking to them.

This may sound strange, but watch someone watching television. Look at how warped the person appears. It seems as if the person stares livelessly into the television.

Television, computer games, and other highly immersive activities are consuming more and more of childrens’ time these days. When a child or anyone for instance, constantly receives their entertainment through computer games for example, they develop an increasing desire for instant entertainment which decreases their attention spans and hurts their listening skills.

Activities such as computer games, require a high level of concentration and reasonable skills to play. When these two are combined, time becomes distorted. Behavioral psychologists term this an internal state of enjoyment known as flow.

A child who constantly gets in flow from an activity by themselves (television, pc games, handheld devices, and gaming consoles) is likely to have their attention span reduced and their listening skills decline. Their ability to be patient is small as the child is used to getting entertained through the rapid pace these activities deliver. When the child needs to listen, the change of pace, from say a Mario game, to his/her parent talking about homework is slow and boring. Computer games and the like cause children to develop poor listening skills.

The first thing you need to do to teach your child better listening skills deals with what activities they have throughout the day. This first aim should be to develop better patience within your child so they at least have the ability to pay attention to the person who is speaking to them. Activities such as computer games are not evil and shouldn’t be totally banned, but their needs to be a level of moderation. It also increases the chances of improving your child’s health as they will spend less time sitting down. In addition, it helps develop the child’s social skills because of more face-to-face interaction. Follow President George W. 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, in my opinion schools are also to blame. Don’t ever let your children know this as they’ll use it as another excuse to not go to school :). I know I would have ;).

The environment of schools where teachers stand up infront and talk to students for excessive periods of time, namely in high school, encourages your children to not listen and switch off their minds. Again this is an attention span issue however, this one cannot be changed.

We as Earthlings can only listen for a certain period of time, and the listening to speaking ratio in schools is imbalanced. Nothing can be done about this though it helps to be aware of its affect on your child’s listening skills.

Listening Activities for Your Child

Activites, fun, and games are some of the best ways children learn. You can integrate their learning style into helping them improve their listening skills. I’ve come up with some practical listening activities you can do with your child to improve their communication skills:

  • You can read to your child and have them tell you their understanding of what you read. This is an excellent activity that will also develop their knowledge depending on what book you read.
  • Not so much an activity as it is a skill, but teach your child to listen non-verbally. To often children can get distracted and do not pay attention. Have them maintain reasonable eye-contact to the person who is talking and where appropriate have them develop other non-verbal skills such as facing you and not fidgeting. These skills will carry over into improving their confidence.
  • Throughout the day, when you say something to your child, ask him/her to repeat the message. They do not need to mirror word-for-word what you say as they just need to retell the main message.
  • You could make up a game if you have several children. Have someone talk up the front and ask a question at the end about something that was discussed in the talk. The child with the best answer can get a reward. Now watch how closely the children listen!

Spending the time with your child develops their knowledge, listening skills, focus, and your relationship. It’s harder to do then plonking them in front of the television, but the rewards are worth the small effort.

You can Teach Through Modelling

You can teach your child to listen by having good listening skills yourself. Monkey see, monkey do. Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Do not Interrupt – when someone says something that we disagree with, we love to interrupt and even go the extra step further by proving them wrong. Hearing what your child says improves their listening skills by encouraging them to not interrupt.
  • Be Together – just by interacting with your child and building a relationship, they are spending more time with you. The more time you have in their lives, the more influential you become, and the more you interact and talk to them, the more your effective listening skills run-over onto your child.
  • Honesty – just like adults, children can see when you are not listening. You need to be attentive and honest in your listening by not tricking them into thinking that you are listening.
  • Have Patience – you cannot expect your child to be patient and attentively listen to you when you cannot be patient yourself. Understand that children take longer then adults to say what they want.

You can also learn more effective listening skills from the articles on Earthling Communication to improve your listening and to further being a better role model for your child.

As a parent, teacher, or someone who is involved with children, you have the opportunity to build your child’s communication skills through your influential power. By teaching your child how to listen, you are teaching them vital communication skills that many adults go through life without.

Adults who use the activities described above and develop their own listening skills become an excellent role model. You are giving your child the skills to develop better relationships later on in life with not only friends and family, but also with future co-workers and managers. Teach your child listening skills now and it will improve your family’s relationship and will even help the child get through many obstacles later on in life.

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I'm creator of a highly praised program called "Communication Secrets of Powerful People" program. You can read about it here and order it here.

3 Responses to “Teaching Your Child Listening Skills”

04 Jan 2007, 3:14 pm

Fantastic. I was having a problem with my child and trying to figure out what to do. Everyone tells why children dont listen; but this article says how we can get them to do it. Thanks a ton

29 Sep 2008, 10:00 am

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 childs 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.

09 Oct 2008, 12:03 am

Thanks for the advise. it cleared our midset and will try the steps .

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