How to help your kids improve active listening?
Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash
Active listening means giving someone your full, undivided attention while they speak. It’s hard enough for adults to do, but it can be downright challenging for children. Luckily, you can help your kids develop this crucial skill. It all starts with being an active listener yourself.
The perks of active listening
Active listening leads to improved comprehension, problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills. It’s fundamental for everything from succeeding at school to developing relationships, and your kids will use it throughout their lives. Active listeners can better retain the information they just heard and show the speaker they’re paying attention.
Are your kids naturally active listeners? In all likelihood, they’re not — that’s because it’s a skill they must develop with practice, like swimming, riding a bike, or drawing. Thankfully, it can be just as fun to learn.
How to teach active listening
Here are five ways you can hone your children’s listening skills.
Develop your own listening skills
When your children talk to you, do you stop what you’re doing and pay attention? Admittedly, this isn’t always feasible — they might be firing off a round of “Paw Patrol” trivia while you’re navigating rush hour traffic. Listen to them without distractions if you have the chance.
Body language is one of the most essential components of active listening. In fact, it accounts for about 55% of personal communication, with spoken words contributing a mere 7% to what you’re trying to convey. It’s essential to show the speaker you’re paying attention.
Try to make eye contact around 60%-70% of the time as you listen. Nod your head, refrain from interrupting, and let your children finish their own sentences, even if it takes a while. When they finish speaking, ask questions to ensure you understand them clearly.
Developing your own active listening skills is a great way to lead your children by example. It can also set a good tone for your relationship with them. Considering that only 22% of high school seniors report having positive communication with their parents, it’s crucial to become an active listener right from the start.
Play listening games
Turning a lesson into a social game is a great way to improve your child’s listening skills. One classic listening game is Simon Says. Give your child fun, silly commands, like telling them to spin around or bark like a dog — but only if you say “Simon says” first. Anyone who acts without hearing those magic words is out of the game.
Another game is to have your children close their eyes and listen carefully. Play a sound and then have them describe what they just heard. Was it an elephant? A car horn? You could also play a tune without lyrics and have them guess which song it is based on the melody.
The telephone game is another classic listening exercise. Sit in a circle with your kids. Whisper something in one of their ears, then have them whisper it to the person sitting next to them. When the message gets back to you, it’s usually very different from how it started, but it’s all part of the fun.
Read a story
Read a book with your kids and ask questions at the end of every page. For example, ask your kids how they think the characters are feeling, why they acted the way they did, or what’s going on in the story. Tell them to predict what will happen next. Then, give them a chance to ask questions or make comments of their own.
Encourage them to listen quietly until you finish reading each section. Older children can wait until you finish the whole book to ask questions.
Following a recipe requires paying attention. Likewise, your kids will need to follow your instructions about how to crack eggs, measure a cup of sugar, and be careful around the stove. Best of all, this activity comes with a tangible reward at the end — there’s nothing like enjoying freshly baked cookies to prove that your kids can listen actively.
Take a listening walk
This activity combines physical and mental exercise to help focus your kids’ attention. Go on a walk with your children and ask them to tell you what they hear. Is there a dog barking? Is the wind blowing?
Maybe it’s a really quiet day; all they can hear is their footsteps or breathing. That’s OK, too. It still teaches them to listen carefully and silence their thoughts for a while.
The power of active listening
Paying close attention is an ability your children will practice their whole lives. You can help them hone their active listening skills by playing games, reading together, and teaching them to follow instructions. Most of all, you can teach them to listen closely by becoming good listeners yourself.