“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19 NIV

It is clear from scripture that one of the ways we can disciple our children is to teach them to be good listeners. God wants His children to learn to listen to Him and His Word, pay attention to authority to gain wisdom, and be attentive to the needs of others.

Being a good listener does not always come naturally. We live in a fast paced, information overloaded
society where we can get an answer to any question at the tips of our fingers. We can search the weather, google the current news, look up an article on countless topics, and find out what is going on in one hundred of our “friends”’ lives at the push of the button. And because technology is always available for us, we want our information quickly and constantly.

A recent article in Time indicates that the average attention span for a human is 8 seconds, a second less than that of a goldfish! This number is down 4 seconds from the average attention span in the year 2000, when the smart phone revolution had first begun.

While scientists believe that media and screen time have allowed our brains to adapt to becoming better at multi-tasking, many believe that our brain is also less able to focus on one thing for a long period of time without getting distracted. Our kids are growing up with a disadvantage in learning to listen and pay attention.

Because of this, it is important for us as parents to work on our children’s attention spans and listening skills. Here are 6 ways we can encourage our children to become better listeners.

1. Decrease screen time. As a mom, I know how easy it is to let the kids watch a show, and then another, and it becomes a slippery slope to too much screen time. Screens can make a really good babysitter when Momma is getting work done, but too much of a good thing is not a good thing for our little ones. Having a set amount of time, like one show a day, will set the expectations, and if you stick to it, your kids will know the limits and be less likely to test them.

2. Choose activities that increase attention skills. To keep your children occupied, make a schedule of activities they can do while you are busy trying to get other things done. Activities such as reading/looking at books, playing board games with siblings, putting together puzzles, and doing crafts or coloring will help your children learn to focus on one task for longer periods of time. For car rides, audio books and stories are great for increasing attention and listening comprehension. Without the visual component of the screen, children are forced to pay attention to what is being spoken.

3. Read books with your children. As a speech pathologist, I cannot stress to you enough the importance of reading time with your children. It is not only great for children academically, but it helps with concentration, language comprehension, and emotional bonding! If your children are very young, start in a room without distractions of other toys, and try to get through a simple board book. Do this every day at the same time, and your children will start to enjoy and become used to the schedule. Slowly increase the time as they start to tolerate more. Start with rhyming books, short Bible stories, and slowly increase the complexity as they become older. Now that my children are older, reading chapter books aloud is one of our favorite parts of the day. It gives us time to feel close, and they have developed great attention and listening skills from years of practice!

4. Teach your children to listen to you and those in authority. Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, in their book, The Toddlerhood Transition-Parenting Your Eighteen to Thirty-Six-Month-Old, show parents how to teach their children to come and attend when their name is called. When you call your children’s names and tell them to come, you teach them to stop what they are doing, come right away, and say, “Yes, Mommy” with good eye contact and ready for instruction. With a little practice and making it like a game, my kids picked it up pretty quickly. Teaching this strategy helps children learn to attend to those in authority and follow directions without becoming distracted. It can take some discipline and consequences at first if they rebel against it, but once they learn, it can transform your parenting!

5. Practice listening and paying attention to others. At dinner time, encourage your family to practice paying attention to others. Make sure any television or background noise is off and cell phones are put away. Go around and talk about your day. Tell everyone to think of three things to share about their day or a “high” and “low” of the day, as example questions. Encourage your children to listen to each family member and not to interrupt. Then have them think of at least one question to ask the person to learn more about their day.

6. Be a good model. The more we model good listening skills ourselves, the more our children will follow suit. So leave your phone in another room when your kids are around to minimize your distractions, and when they call your name, stop what you are doing and listen to them. Give good eye contact, and comment about what they are telling you. Of course we cannot do this all day long, and our children would talk our ears off if we let them. We can, however, let them know when we are not able to give them attention by saying something like, “I am busy right now cooking dinner, but once I get the food in the oven, I will come over and you can have my attention for a minute.” That way they know we want to pay attention, and we are not modeling poor listening skills when we are busy with other things.

For more on teaching your children to be good listeners, try out the Attentive Heart Devotional: Teaching Character from a Biblical Perspective. This devotional focuses on the reasons why we should be attentive as a follower of Jesus. Your children will learn how to have a heart like Jesus by being a listener of God, authority, and others. More ideas for practice are included to reinforce these teachings.

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