You can almost hear the exasperated sigh.
There are many reasons why it might seem your child isn’t listening.
- They can’t hear you
- They don’t know you are talking to them
- They don’t understand what you’re saying
- They understand, but they don’t want to (right now)
Caught up in the heat of the moment and the rush of the day, it can be easy to say they understand you, but don't want to but spare your energy and voice by considering these options.
Reason 1: They can’t hear you
There can be environmental reasons for this; background noise from kids playing, screens, background music, traffic, coffee machine (if you live in my house), wind, rain. Perhaps you are calling out from another room. There is also the possibility that your child can’t hear you because they can’t pick up the speech “signal”. Maybe it sounds a bit fuzzy, or they are hearing the high sounds but not the low sounds. If you suspect this is an issue, or your child has had recurrent ear infections or “glue ear”, or you are concerned about your child’s speech, it is worth seeing an audiologist to rule out any problems. For now though, a few quick tips:
· Get face to face so your child can see you· Reduce background noise (turn down the music, or wait until the kettle’s finished boiling!)
Reason 2: They don’t know you are talking to them
Do you ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? Some children can be so involved in what they are doing they haven’t even noticed that you were talking to them. Hooray for their focus! · Get face to face so your child can see you· Use their name· Talk about their current focus and interest e.g. “Sam, I can see you’re building a great tower there. Are you ready for lunch?”
Reason 3: They don’t understand what you’re saying
This one can be subtle. Little clues can be when you give your child a direction with two steps, and they only follow one. Another example might be they acknowledge you have said something, and try to follow your instruction, but don’t get it quite right. They might be looking at you blankly or come over to you, hoping for some clues as to what you mean. Perhaps they are a bit slow to respond to you. · Show your child what you mean by pointing, gesture and facial expression· Break instructions down to smaller parts· Slow down your speech slightly· Emphasise key words “we’ll get your shoes?”· Consider using signs and pictures as reminders (e.g. wash your hands, dry your hands, then eat).
If you have concerns about what your child can understand, a speech pathologist can help to work out how your child’s language is going, and work with you to build their skills so they are able to understand language more easily. Language difficulties in early childhood are very common but starting early will give your child the best chance of success in the years to come.
Reason 4: They understand, but they don’t want to (right now)
The clue is in the eyes. A child who doesn’t want to may very well tell you so! They may use their body to huddle closer to their activity or give you a bit of a look (we all know that look!). This is often very, very normal!Many children like to finish their activity first and take time to learn to transition between activities. Having a routine to help transition between tasks can be helpful to reduce anxiety e.g. we’re going to play our pack away song, we’re going to pack our toys away, then you can put the spoons out, and we can sit at the table.
But first…the listening!
· Join in with what your child is doing. Be present with them in the moment before you start talking.· Talk about what your child is doing right now· Explain what is happening next “now we’re going to pack away” or show them a visual of a routine you might haveAnd last of all, remember, this is a two-way street.
When you heard the quote at the start, who did you think it was from?I am quoting a four-year old boy who was so exasperated at repeating himself that he yelled this from the corridor in the middle of a busy morning.
Sometimes us adults aren’t that great at listening either.
In this way, we can make communication happen.