How to support your child with Listening Skills

Listening Skills 

What are listening skills?

Sometimes we can often confuse “listening” with “hearing”. So, let’s break it down. Listening comprehension is more than just hearing what is being said. It’s a child’s ability to understand the meaning of the words they hear and be able to relate to them in some way. When children hear a story, good listening skills and comprehension enables them to understand it, remember it, discuss it and even retell it in their own words. This is an important skill to develop even at an early age because good listeners grow up to be good communicators.

The potential downside of poor listening skills

Your child’s listening skills in communication has a major impact on their daily effectiveness and on the quality of their relationships with others. Below are some examples of how having poor listening skills may negatively affect your child in different areas of their daily life:

*Problems making friends

Children retain information through their interactions with others and this includes language skills. Difficulties with listening and attention can impact your child’s ability to play effectively with others. A child that’s easily distracted will not be engaging in meaningful and quality play. This distraction will make it difficult to remain part of group play and all of the associated benefits this brings for a child’s language development and social skills.

*Problems in the classroom

Poor listening skills can have a huge impact on your child’s learning. The majority of a student’s day is spent listening to their teacher, to other students, or to audio teaching aids. As your child develops, they will begin using their listening skills to improve their vocabulary, grammar and reading ability. If they lack listening skills or do not pay attention in lessons, they might struggle to pick up on mistakes they are making and have problems communicating with their teachers. Reading skills can also suffer if your child does not have adequate listening skills, since they might not pay attention when someone else is reading to them.

*Problems with sound awareness

Children with poor listening skills will find it difficult to differentiate between sounds. This is also referred to as “phonological awareness”. Phonological awareness lets children recognise and work with individual sounds in a word. For example, children need to be able to differentiate between the different elements of sounds, such as loudness or tone which makes the difference between an angry voice and a happy voice. Kids who struggle with phonological awareness can also struggle with other aspects of language, like the ability to understand questions and directions. Having difficulties in understanding, following and completing tasks successfully could lead to low self-esteem and even behaviour problems.

What are the characteristics of a good listener?

Below are examples of some of the characteristics of a good listener:

. Being interested and attentive. Children can tell whether they have your attention or not by the way you reply (or don’t reply). Put your phone (and any other distractions) down, stop speaking, maintain eye contact and show that you are present in what your child is telling you.

2. Prepare yourself for listening. Children take longer than adults to find the right words and tend to add many unnecessary details. That’s just part of being a kid! Be patient and listen to them as if you have all afternoon to hear their story.

3. Hear them out. Try to avoid cutting your child off before they finish speaking. It is easy to want to correct what they are saying before they finish their thought – try to hold off on doing this and rather ask them questions once they are done speaking.

4. Ask questions. While reading a story to your child, ask them questions in the form of a conversation starter. Questions show that you are listening and interested. Once you’ve asked your question be prepared to actively listen to their answer.

5. Wait and watch for non-verbal communication. Many messages are communicated non-verbally by your child’s tone of voice, facial expressions, energy level, posture or changes in their behaviour patterns. You can sometimes tell more from the way your child tells you something than from the words they are saying – so, pay attention.

6. Maintain eye contact wherever possible. Teach your children to make eye contact when talking. People who make eye contact while conversing are seen as being more active, honest, confident and sociable.

7. Encourage talking. Some children need to be invited to speak up. Encourage your child to share their ideas, thoughts and feelings with you and when they do be sure to follow the above and listen closely to what they have to say.

What are we actually doing when listening?

We are drawing on three different processes when we listen, these are:

1. Hearing

Hearing doesn’t mean listening, it’s just a physical act of receiving sound stimulation and sending it to the brain for it to be received. A child’s sense of hearing starts to develop at a very early stage in life The majority of children should be able to use their hearing (although some children can have a specific hearing impairment or may suffer from temporary hearing loss). However, just because a child can hear us does not mean that they are listening!

2. Listening

Listening (different from hearing) is the ability to tune into a sound, recognise its importance and interpret the information in the brain. Babies start listening and reacting to noises, sounds, and voices at a very young age. By the time your child is four months old, they will actively turn towards the sound of your voice. As your child grows they’ll learn to listen to different sounds and be able to differentiate between their parents’ voice for example.

3. Attention

Children may be able to hear and listen to sounds and voices, but they also need to be able to do this for a sustained period of time. Your child needs to be able to focus and maintain concentration on aspects of their environment in order for them to learn from it. As your child grows they will gradually learn how to shift their focus from one activity to another and listen at the same time.

Why is active listening important?

Having active listening skills has many benefits and is an important “soft skill” for children to learn. Along with having better comprehension in the classroom, active listeners are generally better communicators and problem solvers. By being an active listener your child is showing characteristics of good character, commitment, and being a leader. Benefits of being an active listener include:

  • Fewer misunderstandings
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved resourcefulness
  • More independence

The role of parents in developing listening skills

At school, your child’s teacher will be working on developing their listening skills, but there’s plenty that you can do at home to help them improve even more. One of the most important ways to do this is to break the negative cycle that often develops when a child is a poor listener. When we become frustrated with being ignored, our knee-jerk reaction is often to raise our voice. If you find yourself doing this you are effectively “rewarding” their negative behaviour of not listening. It’s more productive to reward good behaviour like actively listening to you, by giving your child lots of praise when they complete a task correctly. It may seem daunting when faced with children who struggle to listen and pay attention but there are many ways you can help to improve your child’s listening skills, some of which you are probably doing already without realising it!

How parents can nurture good listening skills

Spending more time interacting with your child is essential (and fun). The more opportunities you take to sing, move to music and read to your child, the better! Learning songs and rhymes by heart is especially powerful for developing their auditory memory, and listening to stories builds up their attention stamina. There are also specific active listening skills activities you can do with your child to help you nurture good listening skills. Some fun activities you can do with your child today include:

  • Copycat – Play games like broken telephone, clapping a pattern or repeating silly made-up rhymes.
  • Repetition games – Ask your child to repeat what you have said, for example, after giving an instruction.
  • Pictionary with a twist – Describe a setting or image to your child and have them draw a picture based on what you say.
  • Instruction games – Practice following instructions in the form of a game like Simon says.
  • Read stories and make them interactive – Let your child predict the ending and retell the best part back to you.
  • Audio stories – Listen to stories together with your child or as a family and ask them questions.
  • Add-on stories – This can be done in a group where each person adds onto the story every 4 or 5 sentences.
  • Identify sounds – Play or make sounds while your child’s eyes are closed and have them try to identify them.

How to improve listening skills in KS2

  • Maintain eye contact-People who maintain eye contact are seen as reliable, warm, sociable, honest, confident, and active. Focusing your eyes also helps improve concentration. This helps you fully understand what the speaker is saying.
  • Don’t interrupt-Let the speaker complete his or her thought before you try to respond. Do not interrupt, finish sentences, or rush him or her. Avoid guessing or assuming where his or her thoughts are going— this can create a negative impact on effective communication.
  • Ask questions-One way to show you are listening (and make sure you hear correctly) is to ask specific questions about what is being said. This provides clarification, ensures understanding, and shows that you are listening.

Try asking these four types of questions:

Open-ended: expand the discussion further. Example: “How was your day at school today?”

Close-ended: prompt for specifics. Example: “Have you finished your homework?”

Leading: prompts the respondent to answer in a particular way. Example: “Do you have too much homework?”

Reflective: expand and extend thinking. Example: “You mentioned math is your favourite subject in school, tell me more about that.”

  • Have conversations about things your child is interested in- This gives your child a chance to engage in a real conversation, practicing both speaking and listening.

Signs your child may have difficulties listening


If your child is struggling with their listening or attention skills, a few signals could arise. Some common signs that your child is having trouble with listening comprehension include:

  • Having trouble following spoken directions, especially if there are multiple steps.
  • Often asking people to repeat what they’ve said.
  • Being easily distracted, especially by background noise or loud and sudden noises.
  • Your child may have trouble with reading and spelling, which could lead to difficulty understanding sounds.
  • Your child may have a hard time with mathematical word problems.
  • Following along with conversations may be a struggle for them.
  • Having a hard time learning songs or nursery rhymes.
  • Your child might have a hard time remembering details of what was read or heard.
  • Learning the different colours.