I’ve been having trouble getting E to listen during prayers and stories. I’m happy to respond to questions and comments pertaining to the activity (Mama pray? Tractor be silly!) but lately she’s started to carry on her own dialogue on top of my voice making it impossible for her to listen to what I’m saying.

It’s clear that she hasn’t fully grasped what’s required for good listening because asking her to ‘Listen, please’ really doesn’t work (i.e. lots of giggles followed by louder talking). After a few failed attempts I remembered my own advice and put it into action. Here’s what happened…

It's my turn to read, okay?!?

Would you just let me read?!?

 

What it looks like: Talking over others, especially when being asked to listen. May find adults’ exasperation funny and/or encouraging.

Mistaken for: Poor listening skills, rudeness.

Why she does it:
It’s tricky! – Listening, you guessed it, is another one of those complex social skills that we expect children to just be able to do. (I’m not sure why because I’m still rubbish at it at 30!) One of the reasons children struggle to listen is simply because they don’t fully understand how it works.

I’m ready to talk! – Children spend a lot of their lives being spoken to but many have much to say themselves. They may not be able to find the most appropriate times to get their words out so they just speak whenever they know they’ve got our attention.

Let me try too! – Kids love to take part in ‘adult’ activities and things like prayer and stories are no exception. It’s possible that she’s simply having a go at ‘praying’ or ‘reading’ herself, even if it doesn’t sound like it.

How to support:
Model good listening daily – If children observe us listening well to them and others throughout the day they will be much more likely to copy that behaviour.

Let her talk – Unless it’s imperative that she listen immediately, give her a chance to say what’s on her mind, even if you can’t understand a word. Make it clear that she can talk until she’s finished and that you will listen. During this time model good listening by stopping what you’re doing, giving her your eyes and showing interest. If she interrupts again after indicating she’s finished take it as a sign that she’s not actually finished and let her carry on. (This may take a while the first few times so either make sure you have the time for it or plan to finish later if you run out of time.) When she’s all finished allow her to listen while you tell her what you need to say.

Let her participate – If this behaviour occurs while reading or praying, assume that this is her way of participating. Ask if she would like to read/pray first and then let her have a go. Again, make it clear that she can read/pray until she’s finished and that you will listen. During this time model good listening by stopping what you’re doing, giving her your eyes and showing interest. If she interrupts again after indicating she’s finished take it as a sign that she’s not actually finished and let her carry on. When she’s all finished allow her to listen while you pray/read.

 

Listening is a hard one to explain, especially to those who haven’t fully grasped language. But modelling is always a great place to start. The results may be slow in coming but the lessons are deep and lasting.

I would love to hear your stories about learning to listen with children, please share!

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