Question: There is a child in my group who often refuses to listen, and nothing I do seems to help. What do I do?

Myrna Shure: Not listening can refer to refusing to do what asked, that is, intentional ignoring your requests, or it can refer to not paying attention.  For refusing to do what asked, you can ask, “How do you think I feel when you don’t listen to me?”  “What can you do so I won’t feel that way?”  You can also ask, “Can you answer in a way so I’ll know you heard me?”  These are questions the child is not used to, and these positive ways will likely get a response.

Shifting to a positive approach can help.  Whether intentional ignoring or not paying attention, start with a game that I have found children as young as age four love to play.  Bring a small group of children together.  Say “We’re going to play a game called the What Do We Like game.”  Start with a child who listens well, and say, “I’m going to name 5 things that make me feel happy, and you have to listen carefully and remember them.  I like strawberries, jewelry, flowers, fruit, and when my children listen to me.  Now you tell me what five things I just said.”  Let the child repeat them (other children can help, if needed).  Now ask the child to name five things that makes him happy.  Children beam because now the teacher has to remember what they say.  Now bring the child who doesn’t listen to the front and repeat the game with that child, with you first naming 5 things and then the child.  Ask the group, “If I were not listening, could I remember what (_____) said?  If (_____) were not listening, could he remember what I said?”  

When this child is really not listening, you can remind him of the “What Do We Like game.”  One teacher, noticing a child was not listening simply said, “I like strawberries.”  Remembering that game and the fun they had playing it stopped him in his tracks, he smiled, and that was the end of that.  This approach may help this child listen too.