Children have a hard time listening. You carefully explain what you want them to do, and they turn around and do something completely different. Exasperated, you ask, “Were you not listening?”


Listening is an acquired skill necessary to be fully present and fully engaged. 


Listening is an essential skill in a child’s learning process. Without it, s/he will be confused about what to do and how to do a given task. Good listening skills are particularly important for children who struggle with ADHD issues.

Listening is an acquired skill. It must be learned and then practiced until it becomes a habit. Well-honed listening skills ensure success at school and in the child’s broader experience of life.

Listening requires that a child be fully present and fully engaged. All the ‘moving parts’—ears, eyes, mind and heart—must be activated and synchronized before communication is fully and accurately received (and given). The ears capture sound, the eyes connect with the source of the sound, the mind processes the sound into the message, and the heart filters the communication through the bias of emotions.


What happens when a child is given clear instructions yet executes something quite different?


The child’s ears catch the sound waves coming through the air but because none of the other components of listening are engaged, all that registers is a series of sounds something akin to, “Blah, blah, blah, blah…”

Meanwhile, his/her eyes are flitting about like a butterfly gathering and sending random data to the brain. Added to the sound bytes and visual images flashing through the child’s mind are meandering thoughts and cameos of imagination. Emotions are stirred and attached to the messages and images according to temperament and mood. This barrage of multi-sensory data is processed in nanoseconds! You are lucky if your child receives any clear message, no matter how explicit you are.

Zoe is a bright eight year-old with dyslexia and ADHD. Both her mind and her body are constantly in motion, seldom pausing long enough to actually hear instructions let alone stay on the task at hand to successfully complete it. Yet, she is creative and capable—when fully present and fully engaged!

My challenge: how can I introduce and activate the four elements of listening within the small window of attention, against an ever-changing backdrop of swirling stimuli and emotion?


Imagination is a powerful tool that can activate listening skills.


A particular strength of dyslexic, ADHD children is a hyper-imagination. This creates problems such as distraction and daydreaming, but it is the very gift that produces brilliant artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. It is the powerful tool which I chose to activate the listening skills lacking in Zoe. After instructing Zoe to settle comfortably in her chair—upright, back against the chair, hands on thighs—and take a few deep breaths to relax, I guided Zoe to use her imagination to identify and activate the four elements needed to listen an truly hear.

“In your imagination, find the inside of your ear. See a door…it is locked. See a key hanging by the door…take the key, unlock the door and open it wide. Now step across to your other ear…see the door…use your key to unlock and open this door. Are your ‘ear doors’ open?

“Next, in your imagination, find your eyes. They are windows. Open the curtains to let the sun shine in. Spray on some window cleaner and wipe the glass with a clean rag. Can you see clearly through your windows? Is the room bright and cheerful?

“Now, in your imagination, let’s go upstairs to your mind…it’s your computer room. Open the door…step inside…switch on the light…see your computer on your desk. Find the power button and boot up your computer. Is your computer up and running?

Now let’s go downstairs into the sitting room.This is your heart…where your feelings and moods are. This is where you like to hang out…to relax and enjoy yourself. See the comfortable couch and chairs? Look around…is there dust…dirt…cob-webs? These are bad feelings, bad attitudes and bad habits. Take a broom and sweep them out…or take a vacuum cleaner and suck them all up…Is the room messy…or is everything in its place? Make sure this room is just the way you like it…clean and comfortable.

Take a deep breath…hold it for a few seconds…and then release it. One…two…three…open your eyes. How do you feel? Are you ready to begin today’s lessons?”

Once the initial procedure is completed, it is much easier to maintain or regain attention. As you notice the eyes shifting, remind your child that listening involves the eyes as well as the ears. When you sense their mind is wandering, ask something like, “Is your computer still engaged?” If negative attitude surfaces, you may need to stop and revisit the ‘sitting room’ and sweep out or vacuum up the negative emotion.


“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”*


Whether I am teaching in the classroom, coaching a struggling learner or home-schooling my two grandchildren, this simple exercise is effective and fun. Not only have the listening skills of my students improved, I have become a better facilitator of learning as I actually listen to what my they have to say. In time and with practice, student and teacher have become skillful listeners and communicators.


How do you develop listening skills in children which enable them to become fully present and fully engaged in the task at hand?




*Source: “Bryant H. McGill.” Xplore Inc, 2015. 25 September 2015.>

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominic /

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