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How to Teach Children Listening Skills

How to Teach Children Good Listening Skills

Do you often feel like your requests go unanswered or are met with strife? Asking children to stop doing something of their choice to comply with your requests can be tricky. As parents and educators, we get it! The last thing most 3-year-olds want to do is brush their teeth before bed or take apart their fort so you can have dinner at the table.  

As with all things in childhood, self-control and following directions are skills that need to be taught and developed. Below are some simple ideas to use when guiding your child through the day’s transitions or when you need them to comply with directions. 

Tips for teaching kids how to put on their listening ears 

5-minute warnings 

When possible, give verbal warnings five minutes before transitions throughout the day. For example, you might say, “Five more minutes to play, and then it’s clean-up time.” You can even use a kitchen or phone timer and let your child set it so they’re involved in the process.  

Sing it as a song 

You can also use songs to make instructions more fun! Try asking them to do something to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” 

     If you’re ready for a snack, look at me. 
     If you’re ready for a snack, look at me. 
     If you’re ready and you know it, 
     Then your face will surely show it. 
     If you’re ready for a snack, look at me! 

Here’s another sung to the tune of “Round the Mulberry Bush.” 

     This is the way we wash our hands. 
     Wash our hands. 
     Wash our hands. 
     This is the way we wash our hands  
     Before we eat our dinner. 

Walk this way! 

To help ease into transitions between parts of the day, try making it a game and asking them to move from one place to the next like a specific animal. Here are a few suggestions:  

  • Walk like a bear, buzz like a bee, or wave your arms like a butterfly to the dinner table.  
  • Fly like an airplane to the car as we leave the park.  
  • Walk like you’re on a bridge over hot lava to get to your bed.  
  • Line up like a train by holding on to your sibling’s shoulders.  

First/then requests 

First/then requests can be visual cues or simply phrased how the transition will play out. For example: “I see that you’re frustrated. First, we’re putting on our coat, and then we get to go outside to play.  

Structured choices 

Structured choices give your child a choice between two desired outcomes. If it’s time to clean up, ask if they want to clean up the stuffed animals or Legos first. Or during mealtime, “Do you want to pick the seat at the end or middle of the table?” Allowing your child to make the choice helps them feel more in control and practice their independence. 

Create a schedule 

Review a picture schedule from start to finish with your child in the morning and again at transition times as needed.  

For younger children (or if it’s just been one of those days/weeks/months), leave off the times. While we know how important creating structure is, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your sanity. Allow your day to flow in a predictable pattern: get up, eat breakfast, playtime, structured activity time, lunch, etc. without the constraints of a clock.  

You could also try creating a picture schedule for a specific transition during the day that’s especially difficult. For example, if bedtime is a nightmare, create a schedule of your nighttime routine: bathe, put on pajamas, brush your teeth, read a story, kiss goodnight, and go to sleep).  

If they’re really digging their heels in, just take a breath! Remember to stay calm and invite them into your peace rather than joining in on the chaos. 
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