Your little chatty Cathy probably shares every detail about her day with you on a regular basis. She talks about her friends, her toys, her wishes and her wants with excitement and enthusiasm. However, once the chatter stops, does she really listen to you and others? “Developing the ability to listen allows a child to learn not to see only their perspective on things, and to be open to connecting to others on a more intimate level,” says Melody Brooke, a family therapist in Richardson, Texas. Before children can really connect with others, it’s important that they are taught the skills to be good listeners – at home, at school and in social settings.
Teaching a child how to listen begins with assessing his skills. Child development experts agree that repetition is key for building good listening skills, says Ingrid Kellaghan, founder of Cambridge Nanny Group in Chicago. She suggests asking young children to repeat your instructions aloud to reinforce their listening skills. “If you’ve told your 4-year-old to get ready for bed, ask her, ‘Would you remind me what you need to do next?’” says Kellaghan. When she responds, you will know what she heard and if she understood your instructions.
Your children often look to you for guidance. Assess your own listening skills to see if your child is learning good listening skills. “If you listen to them, they'll learn to listen to others,” says Brooke. If you find yourself interrupting others and dominating conversations versus listening, your child may learn to do the same.
Most young children are impatient and can’t wait to share their thoughts and experiences with others. However, if your child is impulsive and interrupts often, it’s time to intervene to teach the importance of listening. Brooke recommends gently reminding your child that other people have important things to say, too. Gently tell your child, “Sweetie, let’s give Sara a chance to finish what she is saying, okay? I want to hear what she has to say.”
Listening is a tough skill to conquer, so when you find your child displaying strong listening skills, let him know right away so that he continues this behavior, says Brooke. Phrases such as “Wow. That was really great how you gave her time to say everything she had to say!” and “That makes me proud of you!” will help your child learn the importance of listening. Positively encouraging your child to listen, notes Brooke, will have a significant impact on his interactions with others for years to come.