Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Isn’t it amazing how your child’s hearing starts to deteriorate in certain specific ways between the ages of seven and nine? Now, she doesn’t hear you when you ask her to tidy her room or wash her dirty cup. Strangely though, she hears the start of her favourite television programme despite the fact that she is talking to a friend on her mobile phone at the same time. Children this age have a remarkable ability to “switch off” when they don’t want to hear something.
Psychologists call this “selective attention”, because in many instances, your child makes a choice not to respond to you; she chooses to react to some things that she hears while ignoring others. This is not a deliberate, planned process, but is one that happens without her thinking about it at all.
Remember, though, that her lack of response could, at times, be for genuine reasons. For instance, she may really not have heard you call out to her. Perhaps the sound of your voice was drowned out by the music surging through her iPod earphones. Or maybe she was so absorbed in an activity that she blocked out everything else. Nine-year-olds can be so interested in something that their attention is totally taken up with it, to the complete exclusion of everything else. If you are at all unsure, give your child the benefit of doubt.
IMPROVING LISTENING SKILLS
Here are some techniques that you can use to encourage your child to listen to you when you speak to her:
1. Eliminate distractions The more distractions surrounding your child, the less likely she is to tune in to your comments. Background noise drowns out the sound of your voice, and also draws her attention to many different directions at once. So if you want her to focus on you alone, mute the television or radio.
2. Use her name Your child will instinctively turn around when she hears her name, even in circumstances where she would rather continue with her current activity. This is a reflex reaction. When you want her to listen to you, say her name clearly and loudly (without shouting), then pause for a moment or two before continuing with what you want to say to her.
3. Reduce the distance between you Your eight-year-old hears you more easily when you are close to her. This is common sense, but human nature is such that parents often shout at the top of their voice when trying to attract their child’s attention, rather than stop what they are doing and walking over to her before they start speaking.
4. Ask her to repeat Explain to her “I’m going to tell you something and I want you to repeat it to me when I have finished.” The knowledge that she has to repeat what you are about to tell her verbally will ensure that she listens, understands and concentrates on your instructions while you are giving them. If you do tell her that you intend to get her to repeat what you have said, make sure you follow through with it.
If you are sure that your child aged seven to nine deliberately switches off when you try to engage her, address the issue honestly and directly, without getting angry. Make it clear to her that you think she has deliberately ignored you, and that this upsets you. Explain that when she deliberately doesn’t listen to you, she makes you feel unimportant. Discuss with her how she would feel if you chose to ignore her too. This may make her realise that she needs to be more attentive to you in future.
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