Attention and listening skills are the building blocks needed to develop your child’s speech and language skills.

Some children find it very difficult to listen and attend to others. This may be due to:

  • A medical disorder e.g. ADHD
  • Permanent Hearing loss or temporary hearing loss i.e. glue ear
  • Receptive (understanding) language difficulties e.g. instructions are too long
  • Processing difficulties
  • Environmental factors e.g. background noise

Why are attention & Listening skills important?

As demonstrated in the pyramid below good attention and listening skills are key to supporting your child’s:

  • Social skills development
  • Understanding of language
  • Use of language
  • Speech sound development
  • Learning

In a time where technology is now part of our day-to-day lives and screen time has become part of our children’s daily routine, it is important to spend time with your child focusing on developing their attention and listening skills.

While your child may be able to sit and focus on a screen for a long period of time (e.g. tv, phones, youtube), this only focuses on an early stage of attention and listening development – single channelled attention. At this stage of development your child will be able to focus on a motivating activity of their own choosing . They will typically ‘switch off’ from other distractions in their environment and it may often appear as if they are ‘ignoring you’.

By carrying out activities with your child, you will be supporting them to develop joint attention skills. This will allow them to share an interest in an object/ event/ activity with another person. Joint attention skills are needed in order to be able to effectively communicate with others.

What can I do at home to develop my child’s attention and listening skills?

The best things you can do at home to support your child to develop good attention and listening skills are:

  • To reduce distractions e.g. turn off the television/ radio; have fewer toys out.
  • Sit opposite your child, so that you are both at the same level, facing each other.
  • Be sure to use your child’s name to gain his/ her attention before giving them an instruction.
  • Follow your child’s lead during play. Children will often attend to activities for a longer period of time when they have some choice in what they are doing.
  • Try to comment on what your child is doing rather than asking questions e.g. try “A blue car” rather than “What colour is the car?”.
  • Be sure to WAIT after giving your child an instruction/ commenting on what they are doing/asking a question, to allow them time to process what you have said and respond.
  • Give instructions in small steps – one piece of information at a time.  Emphasise the key words that will help your child to know what to do. e.g. you need your shoes … and bag.
  • Throughout the day, use the word “look” and then point to show your child interesting objects. When your child looks, bring the object back to you and label it. Give your child the object to play with and join in the play too.
  • During play be sure to take the same number of turns as your child (adults often take the most turns). Show your child how to take turns – “your turn, my turn”.
  • When reading stories for your child make them more interesting by using ‘voices’ for different characters.
  • Give your child specific praise focusing on their attention and listening skills e.g. “Well done you listened really well to that story.”

This lovely video created by the NELFT NHS Foundation Trust summarises the key stages of your child’s attention and listening development and talks you through some of the key activities you can carry out with your child.

Video courtesy of NELFT NHS Foundation Trust

What activities do you enjoy doing with your child to develop their attention and listening skills?

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  1. Pingback: Attention and Listening Development | Ages & Stages | Sparking Speech

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