Tips and Activities for Teaching Intentional Listening

By Melissa Martin, author of  Tessie Tames Her Tongue: A Book About Learning When to Talk and When to Listen

Tips and Activities for Teaching Intentional ListeningHow do you help children better use the appendage sticking out on each side of their heads?

How do you encourage them to pay more attention to the tiny holes that house earwax?

The art of intentional listening is a skill we can practice with children. But first, spark their curiosity with astounding ear facts.

Extraordinary Ears

  1. Hearing is one of the five major senses (the others are sight, smell, taste, and touch). Epic!
  2. Earwax protects the ear by lubricating it and cleaning out the dust and dirt particles. Skin glands in the ear canal make earwax. Cerumen is the scientific name for earwax. Kudos for earwax!
  3. The three tiny bones in the middle ear are the smallest bones in the human body. Wow!
  4. The inner ear is located in the temporal bone, which is the hardest bone in the human body. Cool!
  5. Ears contain a liquid that helps us balance. Go ears!

The Difference Between Hearing and Listening
Talk with kids about hearing versus listening.

We hear with the parts of the human ear. It’s a natural occurrence. We hear all kinds of sounds. Children may hear what an adult says but choose not to listen and respond.

Balancing talking and listening is a learned skill. Focusing the mind on the message of the other person and then responding is the process called communication.

Five Tips for How to Talk so Your Child Will Listen

  1. Use your child’s name when you have a request. Smile. Nonverbal body language is a big part of communication. What is your body language saying to your child?
  2. Bend down and give direct eye contact. Get your child’s full attention. Conversations are competing with technology (computers, cell phones, video games, television). Temporarily turn off technology.
  3. Watch the volume of your own voice. Kids tune out yelling adults.
  4. Notice when your child listens and offer encouragement: “When we choose to listen to each other, the chores get completed quicker, which leaves more playtime.”
  5. Don’t interrupt when your child is telling you a story, and don’t pretend to listen when you’re not. Make listening to your child a top priority. If you’re in the middle of an important project that can’t wait when your kid wants to talk, say, “I will listen to your story when I’m done. What you have to tell me is important.”

The following are listening-learning activities to share with your child:

  • Ask your child to put his hands over both ears and recite the alphabet. Invite him to describe this listening experience.
  • Watch a TV show with your child without the sound. Discuss what the actors are trying to say to each other. Communication includes body language and both talking and listening.
  • Ask your child to close her eyes while you tell a short story. Discuss the listening experience. Was it easier or more difficult to listen?
  • Ask your child to stand on one side of a closed door while you stand on the other side. Talk to him for three minutes about the weather. Ask for feedback.

For more information about the ear that you can share with your child, go to and search for “ear.”

Melissa MartinMelissa Martin, Ph.D., is a clinical child therapist with experience as a play therapist, adjunct professor, workshop leader and trainer, and behavioral health consultant. Her specializations include mental health trauma treatment, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and expressive therapies. A self-syndicated newspaper columnist, she writes on children’s mental health issues and parenting. Melissa lives in Ohio.

Tessie-Tames-Her-TongueMelissa Martin is the author of Tessie Tames Her Tongue.

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