Paul: We are not going to jump into all of the psychological aspects of listening so much as the actual mechanics and skills that are associated with listening, and I have Vicki helping me with this as she works will this all the time.

Vicki: There is something called central auditory processing. That is where kid's hearing is just fine but for some reason when they hear an instruction or whatever it gets kind of jumbled and they don't know how to process it.

Paul: Yeah, the lights are on but nobody's home.

Vicki: Yeah, well a little bit. That is kind of few and far between. A lot of children have a hard time listening. It is a skill. I don't know if you've ever googled those videos of the baby who has not had hearing and then they get their first cochlear implant. And they map it and turn on the cochlear, and when they hear for the first time, they don't really know what they're listening to.  Or what to do with all of that data that's now available to them.

So one of the things you can do right from the very beginning with little kids is you kind of play some rhythm and sound games. Maybe go for a listening walk. You can do this with a really small kid, go for a listening walk. Stop and ask, “What do you hear? Voice. Somebody's playing outside.” And you are going to just stop and hear the voice for a few seconds. You're going to listen for an animal, a truck, an airplane. Little kids learn “moo” before they do “cow.” They learn the sounds first. So, go ahead and start listening for different sounds. It's so easy with your phone you can actually get little recording clips. Play one and ask, “What does this one sound like?” That's for a young child you're teaching them how to map listening with something else.

Paul: We've talked before, Vicki, about how play is the work of children. It's what they do. So, make it fun. Engage with them in a playful way with the objective of helping them to learn these listening skills and you have a whole lot more success.

Vicki: A lot of the times parents come to me and say, “He doesn't listen.” And it might be kind of a focus issue. Let's talk about children and their ability to follow multi-step directions. A lot of the times that's when parents tell me they are not listening. “I told him to get his coat and tell his brother to come meet me out at the car. And that we were gonna go on Thursday. And he's still in there playing his game.” So, one of the things we can do to help our children listen is slow down and break down. Little children cannot follow a really complicated 3 step direction.

Paul: Yes, don't expect your 2-year-old, your 3-year-old maybe even your 4-year old to do this. By the time they are getting to 5 or 6 they have got some metacognitive abilities and they can start to track some things.

Vicki: But kids with some focus issues are still going to struggle with those longer directions. Break it in to 1 or 2 or 3 steps. One of the things I love to teach kids is the skill is making a list of what's expected. Maybe you have certain routines that they need to do every day, or on a regular basis.

Paul: Like a bedtime routine or getting ready in the morning.

Vicki: Or maybe they need to get through a certain number of chores because you'll be home a little later after school. So even an older kid. Have it broken down with a list. But, you are going to teach them the skill of returning to the list. When they say, “Wait, what did you say I'm supposed to do?” Go back to the list.

Paul: “Did you check your list?”

Vicki: And it might appear that they are not listening. But really, they are not remembering all of the steps and tracking that sequence.

Paul: The list doesn't have to be words. In fact, with younger kids, you are going to have pictures and it might be a picture of someone brushing their teeth and combing their hair and tying their shoes. So, that they can go to the list and they see that sequence.

Vicki: Another thing I try to teach parents and kids is a skill called repeat and rephrase.

Paul: I teach couples this in my office.

Vicki: Yes. You want to repeat what they said or word-for-word sometimes. You ask your child, “What did I just say?” And you see if they actually know what it was. And rephrasing of course is just putting it in their own words. And either one is fine. But have them repeat and rephrase. That is a listening skill. We are going to practice this if I said… Repeat it, rephrase it to me. I did that with a child today. One more thing is sometimes you know, if you have a child that really does seem to have a hard time listening. Maybe they are just a little bit busier child, right? Sometimes you have to teach them how to be their own self-advocate. Teach them the skill by saying, “I didn't get all of that. Could you say it again a little slower?”

Paul: Kids can say this?

Vicki: Yes. So, they learn they can ask their teacher to slow down. They could ask you to slow down. They could ask you to break it down. This is tough.

Paul: When our granddaughter was only 3, sometimes she would hear a word that she didn't understand. And she's pretty sharp. I mean she's linguistically able to determine, “Okay, I caught all those words but I missed that one.” And she would grab that word and she would say, “Grammy. what does (and then she'd repeat the word) mean?” She's advocating for herself. This is another example of what you're talking about.

More resources are available. We have a video called How to Talk to Kids so They Listen? That's one of the next videos you might want to check into at Live On Purpose TV on YouTube. We've also got a free parenting breakthrough call that you can get connected to a Live On Purpose Coach by going to