At a glance
There are lots of reasons some kids don’t listen.
They don’t always do it on purpose.
Some kids have a hard time knowing what people are saying.
It’s not unusual for kids to sometimes tune out their families. Especially when kids don’t want to hear things like “you need to stop playing video games and do your chores.”
If your child does that once in a while, you might not think much of it, other than being annoyed. But if you’re always repeating directions, and your child is always saying “huh?” or “what?” you may wonder whether there’s something else going on. Is your child not listening? Or is what you’re saying not getting through?
It’s possible that your child isn’t listening, and there can be lots of reasons for that. But sometimes kids only seem like they’ve tuned out. Instead, they may be having trouble knowing what people are saying.
Learn about trouble with listening comprehension and what can help.
Challenges You Might Be Seeing
Trouble with listening comprehension affects kids in many ways. But the signs can be confusing. That’s because some of them could be caused by other things.
Here are some common signs that a child may be having trouble with listening comprehension:
- Has trouble following spoken directions, especially ones with multiple steps
- Often asks people to repeat what they’ve said
- Is easily distracted, especially by background noise or loud and sudden noises
- Has trouble with reading and spelling, which involve understanding sounds
- Has a hard time with math word problems
- Has trouble following conversations
- Has a hard time learning songs or nursery rhymes
- Has trouble remembering details of what was read or heard
What Can Cause Trouble With Listening Comprehension
There are lots of reasons kids don’t listen or follow directions. Some kids lose track of what people are saying because they struggle with focus. They may get distracted and stop listening. They may also have trouble remembering information they just heard.
Some kids have trouble understanding what people are saying for another reason. It involves difficulty with auditory processing.
This isn’t a problem with hearing. It’s an issue with how the brain processes sounds. Kids who struggle with auditory processing have trouble picking up on subtle differences in sounds.
If they’re someplace with a lot of background noise, including classrooms, the challenge can be even greater. They might often ask teachers to repeat instructions. That can make it seem like they’re not paying attention.
There are other language challenges, too, that make it hard to follow what people are saying but for different reasons. Some kids have trouble picking up on tone of voice. Others struggle to understand what people mean when they talk.
What Can Help Kids Who Have Trouble With Listening Comprehension
There are lots of ways to help kids who struggle with listening comprehension. But you need information about your child’s challenges to give the right type of help. You can start getting answers by closely watching your child’s behavior and looking for patterns.
You’ll also want to have your child’s hearing checked out. Talk to your child’s health care provider about what you’re seeing at home and about having your child tested. If it turns out that your child is having trouble with hearing, you can talk about next steps.
If not, you need to move in a different direction to find out what’s going on. Your child’s teacher may be able to shed light. Reach out and set up a time to talk about what the teacher is seeing in the classroom. Are they the same things you’re seeing at home? Is your child struggling in other ways?
The teacher may have suggestions for strategies to try at home. For example, you could try having your child look you in the eye when you speak. You can also remove any distractions when you’re talking to your child. There may also be things the teacher can do in class.
If the challenges continue, you might want to talk about what the school can do. One option is to have the school do a free evaluation. You’ll learn about your child’s strengths and challenges and the best ways to help.
Struggling to know what people are saying is very frustrating and can make school and socializing hard. Kids may feel like there’s something wrong with them. They may also get in trouble for not listening because people don’t understand.
Your support and encouragement can make a huge difference. Learn how to recognize your child’s strengths. Discover activities to help your child build a growth mindset. And get tips for talking to your child about challenges.
Some kids have trouble understanding the sounds in words.
Trouble with focus makes it hard to keep track of what people are saying.
Talk to your child’s teacher about strategies you can try at home.
Tell us what interests you
About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.