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Child Behavior: Getting Kids to Listen

Ask a Child Psychologist

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Q | Whenever I ask one of my students to do something, she pretends not to hear me. How do I get her to listen?

A | First, rule out the possibility that hearing loss is the cause. Children with hearing loss often try to pick up on what is happening around them visually, which can make them appear inattentive. In many cases, caregivers and educators are convinced a child can hear them, and hearing loss goes undetected.

If you discover that your student has hearing loss, think about steps you can take to make necessary accommodations. It is much more difficult to listen and hear instructions with high background noise (e.g., many students speaking at once); consider how you can minimize distractions.

If your student does not have hearing loss, you will need to consider what leads to the noncompliance and how you will respond to increase the likelihood of your student listening to you. For example, whenever possible, give countdowns about upcoming transitions. Your student may require one or two reminders that a transition is approaching. Try to use as few words as possible so your student does not tune you out because of word overload.

Immediately begin complimenting those students who start preparing for the transition. Should your student join in, praise her.

Be brief, specific, and direct in telling your student what you want her to do. Allow her an opportunity to listen. Try to avoid repeating yourself right away and giving negative attention if she is dawdling. Also, have in mind a potential positive or negative consequence if she does or does not listen.

If you follow all of these steps several times and the dawdling continues, reach out to the school psychologist or behavioral consultant, as a more detailed plan may be necessary.

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Question for Dr. Fernandez?
E-mail: instructor@scholastic.com

Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org).

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