build listening skillsStudents who have strong listening skills do much better in school than students who do not have this ability.  Good listening skills also help adults succeed in relationships and in careers.  Because of the emphasis placed on listening skills, school can be very frustrating even if your child does not have an auditory processing problem, ADHD, or language processing problem.  What can parents do at home to improve listening skills?

Listening is not hearing

Our brains can process an astonishing 20,000 bits of auditory information every second!  Hearing is a very “passive” activity.  Think about the last time you were in a crowded room and were aware that there was a lot of talking, but didn’t know what each person was saying.  The conversations are just “background noise,” not really registering with you, even though you could hear them.  Listening on the other hand, is a conscious process of getting meaning from what we hear.  It involves attention and a decision to participate intellectually with the speaker and the message.  Skillful listening requires the ability to stay focused on the message, resist other distractions, and make a meaningful connection with the content of the message.  Good listening requires practice because it involves effort to do it well.

Don’t inadvertently erode your child’s motivation and self-confidence about listening

We have so much pressure in raising our families, earning a living, and caring for ourselves that we often don’t realize how our behavior is affecting our children.  We fall into the trap of calling out directions from another room without knowing whether our kids are able to give us their attention.  We need to get our children’s attention before expecting them to listen.  Try this strategy:  stand in the doorway or near your child without saying anything and wait for him to notice you.  Then make a positive comment about your child’s activity before launching in to your directions.

Give your child a reason to listen to what you have to say by developing mutual interests and discussing them together

Encourage your child to describe his thoughts.  Keep the focus on actively listening to what he is saying.  Show through your example what good, thoughtful listening looks like by being attentive, asking good follow-up questions, and interacting with what your child has to say.

Auditory processing strategies

If your child has a great deal of difficulty understanding speech sounds due to an auditory processing problem, speak slowly and distinctly.  Let your child see your mouth as you speak.  Teach your child to feel what the sounds feel like when she speaks by having her put her hand on her mouth or throat as she says a difficult word.  Let her look in a mirror when she pronounces a difficult word to give her visual feedback.

Reduce distractions

During learning periods, reduce distracting noise such as that coming from artificial lighting, TV sets, or washing machines.  If outside noise is a problem, hang drapes or wall hangings to absorb sound.  Use “white noise” to soothe and focus your child.  Good sources of masking noise are fish tanks; upbeat, instrumental music; and desktop waterfalls.

Take movement breaks to revitalize

The body and brain need movement to function properly.  A few minutes of movement exercises during homework time will re-energize the nervous system for better attention and learning.  Read more ideas.

Read to your child every day for at least ten minutes

One of the most powerful strategies a parent can use to build their child’s skills is to read stories that your child finds interesting.  Choose materials in areas of mutual interest or stories that go along with the topics your child’s class is studying.  Stop regularly and ask your child to predict what will happen next or express an opinion.  Listen to stories together at libraries and bookstores.  Books on tape are great.

Help your child develop “inner language” skills

Inner language is the little voice inside our heads that guides and directs our actions.  Develop these skills by teaching your child to repeat back what is said to him.  Ask him to explain what he is thinking as he works.  Teach him to describe to you what he is going to do before he does it and while he’s doing it.  All of these strategies will help him learn to focus on the steps in a process and make it easier for him to work through the specific steps the teacher gives him in the classroom.


Make this a game!  Read to your child in phrases short enough for her to repeat them back to you.  Poems are excellent sources because they contain rhythm and rhyme and are lots of fun!  The next step in this method is to have your child tap out the syllables as she repeats back to you.  Now, for the third phase, have your child listen to you read, but instead of repeating back to you what you said, she will only tap out the syllables.  This is going to develop her inner language skills.  If this is hard, give her shorter phrases to tap or let her whisper while she taps, gradually phasing out the whispering.  Be sure at each stage that after you finish reading, your child can tell you in her own words what you have read.

Build your child’s vocabulary skills

Help your child learn new words by developing mutual interests, such as going to museums, learning a sport, or investigating interesting animals.  As you and your child engage in interesting activities, take the opportunity to increase her vocabulary.   Vocabulary words learned in interactive, fun activities are better learned and remembered.

Teach your child to visualize on the classroom walls what he hears

Start by using a piece of paper and dividing it into four sections.  Read a story to your child and discuss it with him so he remembers it.  Then have him draw four pictures that illustrate the story—beginning, middle and end.  When you have done this a number of times, read a story, discuss it, and then have him look at one of the walls in the room and imagine that his picture is drawn on the wall.  Continue with three other walls.  Now practice by pointing to a wall and asking your child what he is imagining on the wall.  Discuss how to use this technique in the classroom to increase his interest and attention during class discussions.

Fun games for preschool and early elementary children

Clapping Patterns. Clap your hands in a rhythmic pattern, and have your child repeat it.  Increase the number of claps and build in a memory aspect to the activity.

Talk with the Animals.  Collect your child’s favorite stuffed animals; sit your child facing away from you.  Each animal knocks and gives clues to its identity using a funny voice.

Word Shout. Read a book with a word or phrase that is repeated frequently.  Have your child shout out the word or phrase whenever he or she hears it.

Fun games for older elementary children

Then. The first person makes a statement that ends with the word “then.” The next person adds a statement that goes along with the story.  For example:  First person: “The doorbell rang, then…” Second child: “….the dog started to bark, then…”

Who’s Talking. Watch one of your child’s favorite movies or television shows together. Have her close her eyes.  Now and then say “Who’s talking.” Your child identifies who is speaking.

Cook Together. Find a recipe, and read the directions out loud to your child.

Your child’s success in school is dependent upon many things, but strong listening abilities are one of the most important.  Remember to connect with your child in activities that truly interest him or her and she will be eager to listen to what you have to say!