Many people these days lack listening skills which makes me surprised when they complain about the listening skills of children. Listening skills are very important for kids both academically and in social situations.
Attribution: Flickr - Stephan Kiessling
Yet listening skills are often a forgotten skill, rarely making it into school curriculum or being explicitly stated in social and emotional learning programs.
Let's look at some ways to help your kids be better listeners.
Role model listening behaviour
Our children learn how to behave in social situations by copying what others do, especially us as parents. If you are not going to listen to them they will have trouble learning how to listen to you.
Attribution: Flickr - woodleywonderworks
Parents who just order their kids around are not showing their children how to behave. Instead, take the opportunity to listen. This can be as simple as asking your kids their opinion on everything from what they want to wear today or what they want for dinner.
Also children who are brought up this way are less likely to involved in antisocial, illegal or risky behaviour because they have learnt how to express their own opinions and ideas rather than just following the crowd.
Play listening games
Listening games can be a lot of fun, especially at kids parties.
Attribution: Flickr - Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright
Simon says is a great game, and if you search online you can find many interesting variations
There are some great drawing games, where one person describes something and the other person draws it. The most interesting part of this game is that it teaches kids to put themselves in the other person's position. Which in itself is a great communication skill.
Games that involve following instructions: We often pay a game where one kids is blindfolded and the other kids have to give them instruction son how to get somewhere "Take one step forward, turn left, take two steps forward..etc". A variation on this is to play blind folded tag with two kids blindfolded and each team taking turns at providing instructions on how to catch the other team's player.
If you are not sure they listened, ask them to repeat it back
One of the tricks that the military use is that if an order is given, they are not allowed to just respond "Yes, Sir!" they have to repeat the order back. This shows that they have understood the problem.
If you are not sure your kids are listening, ask them to repeat what you just said to them. This builds up the habit of going through any instructions in their head. You can even expand on this by asking them to think about what was said and answer questions.
Get kids to explain information to others
This is common in classroom settings where the children are often asked to explain things to other students who haven't learnt the task yet. If you have at least 2 kids you can do this by asking the older one to teach things to the younger one.
Attribution: Flickr - Tom Childers
A side effect of this is that often they will need to ask for more information, building up active learning skills.
Build active listening skills with question asking games
Active listening is where ask the right questions to get the information that you need. One of the most basic games here is 20 questions. However there are many variations on this game.
Reading stories to kids helps them listen. To help your kids listen more deeply don't just read a book but talk about the story as you read it. Ask them what they think is going to happen next, how different characters might be feeling and so on to encourage thoughtful listening.
Attribution: Flickr - San Jose Library
When you discuss the characters in a story it also helps to build up social and emotional learning. It helps children to build up empathy as well as teaching them how to label and express their feelings.
Pure listening (For older learners include adults)
This is an activity that I like to do with adult learners, but is appropriate for teenagers as well. I haven't had the chance to try it with younger kids. The object is for one person to talk and the other person to only listen. By listening I mean, not even asking questions. It is very hard for most people to get through this exercise without either asking questions or trying to talk about their own experiences.
The purpose of the exercise is to focus on the nonverbal communication needed for listening. When someone is truly listening it is uncomfortable to not keep talking.
Your own listening skills
The first thing you should do at the end of reading this is to go out and practice your own listening skills. Listening is not easy and we have to both practice it ourselves and build it as a skills with our kids.