Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Sabina Dosani explains frustrations around listening and how, as a parent, you can help your child learn this important life skill – regardless of any diagnosis they may or may not have.
‘My child just won’t listen to me,’ is a phrase I hear often in clinic, and one I’ve said myself a few times as a mother. As a child psychiatrist, I know this is can be much worse for parents of children with ADHD and can often result in arguments and tensions at home.
Listening, comprehension and working memory are impaired in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. This means children with ADHD are more likely to blurt-out answers in class, speak out of turn, interrupt, and talk too much.
Children with ADHD are easily distracted by noise and movement. Many tend to daydream and seem in a world of their own. They may find it hard to focus on one activity at a time and find it hard to follow instructions, making learning and socialising difficult.
Children with attention difficulties invariably have one of two listening difficulties:
Spending five minutes each day on listening practice can help. Try to do this at the same time every day. It’s a worthwhile investment of time and energy to ensure your words fall on open ears.
Listening practice involves adults giving children positive reinforcement for correctly listening to instructions. It is one of the best ways to help younger children, especially those under ten, who have ADHD, attend to requests and to stop interrupting.
Gain your child’s attention by saying her name or making eye contact. If getting his attention is a challenge in itself, it often helps to stand or sit directly in front of him, make eye contact, and maintain frequent eye contact during listening practice. Also ask him to stop any other activity he’s doing at the time, and to put away any objects so that his hands are empty.
Explain that you are going to start listening practice.
Maximise the chances of having her undivided attention by switching the television off and doing this at a time when there are likely to be minimal interruptions.
Give a number of simple, clear instructions, one at a time.
After each instruction, praise her when she listens and does what is asked.
Make it encouraging and enjoyable.
Your comments will be something like this:
Please put the t-shirt in the laundry basket.
Thank you, you’re a good listener.
Now please sharpen this pencil.
What a great listener.
Next, I’d like you to put the pencil in your pencil case.
You’re a fantastic listener.
Once she gets good at these simple one-step commands, kick listening practice up a notch by introducing two-step activities like, “please sharpen your pencil and put in the pencil case”, then three-step activities.
Another fun way of improving listening skills is to play sound bingo. Make a bingo card with sounds you would make when preparing an evening meal. The tap running, chopping onions, opening a tin, putting something in the oven, for example. Get your child to sit in the kitchen while you cook, but facing away from you. Every time they hear a sound on the card, they cross it off, just like real bingo. Its best if you play with more than one child, as there’s nothing like a bit of competition to help them raise their game.
If you have a problem with your child interrupting, introduce a sea shell. At dinner time, or whenever you sit together as a family, when one person is speaking they could hold this listening shell, which means that everyone else (including the adults) must listen to what they say.
Play "Champion Distractor." This is an enjoyable competitive game. One person has to focus on completing a task, while the person playing Distractor does everything possible to distract the other person and disrupt the task. In order to win, a person must work hard to be a good Distractor and also work hard at not being distracted by the other Distractors. Another fun listening practice is to play a family round of ‘Simon says’. This game teaches children to listen carefully for specific instructions and then do the actions.
Q. My daughter finds it difficult to listen and always blurts things out or interrupts. How can I change her behaviour?
A. This is an indicator that it is time to change your approach. Instead of responding when she blurts out, you need to pause while she speaks, ignore what she says and carry on the conversation you were having before she interrupted. Break the pattern further by looking for opportunities to praise her when she manages not to interrupt and can wait her turn in a conversation.
Q. My son gets bored during listening practice. He manages to do the tasks, but is still interrupting and not listening at other times. Why isn’t it working?
A. It sounds as if it might be that one stage commands are too easy. If he can do these, introduce some two or three stage commands. If his mind is wandering during the five minute practice, have a break halfway through to have a drink or jump on a trampoline and burn off some energy for a minute before returning to the task.
If you suspect your child has ADHD or would like to find out more about the therapeutic approaches that can help children with ADHD, Clinical Partners can help. We arrange assessments with Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, like Dr Dosani, often within a few weeks. Helping thousands of families, just like yours, every year, Clinical Partners only works with highly experienced, compassionate clinicians so you can be confident that your child’s wellbeing is in safe hands.
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