It can be really frustrating when your child doesn’t seem to listen to you. You might wonder if there’s a problem or if your child is ignoring what you say on purpose. This is a common experience for families.
When kids are little, they often don’t seem to be listening. Toddlers and kindergartners may be wrapped up in a game they’re playing. Or they may hear you but not look at you, so you don’t realize they are listening. As kids get older, they typically learn a simple social rule—when someone is talking, you stop and look at the person, so the person knows you’re listening.
Sometimes, though, it becomes obvious that a child really doesn’t listen very well. At this point, it’s important to figure out what you mean when you say your child “doesn’t listen.” Do you think your child has trouble hearing? Or do you mean that your child doesn’t do what you ask?
If you’re concerned about your child’s hearing, it’s smart to get your child’s hearing checked. Grade schools often screen young kids for hearing, but the tests aren’t always reliable enough to rule out hearing problems. If you’re not sure, check with your doctor or health care provider.
If your child hears fine, but doesn’t do what you ask, there are a few simple things to try right away, before digging deeper.
First, use shorter, more direct sentences with fewer words. For example, instead of saying “Can you pick up all your toy cars and trains and put them back in the green toy box in your room?” try “Please put away your toys.”
Second, say your child’s name and then pause before you ask a question or give a direction. “Emma… please put away your toys.”
Third, consider whether your child is hungry or tired. Kids who are hungry, tired, or stressed have a harder time listening and picking up on instructions.
It helps to set clear routines and expectations, too. If your child knows there’s a rule to pick up toys before dinner and you enforce it every day, it can make it easier to follow what you say.
If these tips don’t help, you may need to observe your child more to find out what’s going on. Even when kids hear fine, they can have trouble listening for different reasons. Two common ones are:
Your child hears you but doesn’t understand what’s being said
Your child hears and understands you, but doesn’t follow through, or doesn’t follow directions
Many kids have trouble understanding what people say. They may miss parts of what’s said, so they can’t make sense of it. Kids may also not understand the vocabulary you use.
Other kids have trouble following directions. They have a hard time keeping track of long sentences or instructions with more than one step. This can be related to trouble with focus. It can also happen when kids struggle with self-control.
Keep an eye on what you see, and connect with your child’s teacher to find out what’s happening at school. All kids have trouble listening now and then. But when it becomes a pattern and gets in the way of doing well at home or in school, it’s worth looking at.