Young children have to be taught the skill of listening. Once a child is taught how to listen, not only is it helpful for the parent but it also helps the child to learn more effectively and develop better relationships going forward.
As Madison is getting older, her selective hearing is starting to kick in. She'll tune us out if she's watching television or if she's on a device. She's also crazy excited to have a baby sister and is constantly wanting to grab Morgan's hands, be in and touch her face, talk loud directly in her ears, etc. We're having to be really intentional about getting her to listen as she's at that age where she doesn't want to stop doing what she wants to do.
Lately, I've been trying to teach her to be gentler with the baby and the bulk of that is really about helping her to be a better listener. Here are some of the ways that can be used to help teach a young child to listen better:
1. Talk at Her Level/Make Eye Contact
This means you'll need to get a bit low or sit down to talk to your child (if possible). When we tower over children when we talk to them they aren't as receptive. Looking them into their eyes as we talk forces them to focus and lets them know that we're serious, making it more likely that they'll listen.
2. Set Expectations
When kids know what to expect they're less likely to be fussy or argumentative which results in not listening. If it's almost time for a bath I always set the expectation that we're going up for a bath soon. When I say, "Maddie, we're going up to take a bath in 10 minutes" and that time is up, I can then say "time is up, let's go upstairs". She listens every time all because I set that expectation. If I just spring it on her, hearing me goes out the door and she'll want to plead; "I'm not ready", "I don't want to take a bath", "just a few more minutes", etc.
3. Be More Direct
Instead of always telling a child to stop doing something, tell them what you want them to do instead. For example, when Maddie is playing as she walks down the steps, I'll say "use the rail please" instead of "stop playing on the steps". She'll immediately stop horsing around on the steps to grab the rail and walk down. Redirecting children in this way helps them to listen better as it comes across as a more positive reproach as oppose to being told no and stop often. It keeps her from thinking that I'm stopping her from playing (because I didn't even mention it) and has her thinking about what she should be doing instead (using the rail so she can get down safely). Of course, there are times when you just have to say no or stop, but use this approach when you can.
This may be the most important step of all. Children are incredibly observant and they emulate what they see others doing, especially their parents. Because of this, it's incredibly important that you practice what you preach and demonstrate what it means to be a good listener. You should be making eye contact when they're talking and be fully present (i.e., no phone or other distractions when they're speaking). Giving our child our full attention when they're talking not only teaches them to do the same, but it also helps them to feel that you value what they have to say to you as well.
5. Be Firm
Be sure that as you're teaching your child to become better listeners that you're not making idle threats. If you tell them there is a consequence for not listening stick to upholding that consequence. Children quickly learn what they can and can't get away with based on how you've conditioned them. If you constantly repeat yourself instead of just telling them to do something once, they know that they can keep doing what they're doing a few times before consequences kick in. So, say what you mean and mean what you say the first time.
Be Intentional,Photo by London Scout