And how to give directions they will follow
Getting Kids to Listen
- Be a good listener. Children learn best from modeled behavior.*
- Always acknowledge and validate what they’re saying and how they’re feeling--even when you disagree with them. Kids are also more likely to listen, if they feel they’ve been heard.
- Talk less. Your directions should be short, concise and easy to understand.
- Get on their level. Instead of shouting directions across the room, walk over to the child, get down at their level and look them in the eye.
- Use a calm voice. It’s easy to fly off the handle when we’re tired, frustrated and angry--but all that does is create a release for us. It does nothing to change kids behavior, or get their attention. Kids tune out yelling.
- Be mindful of your tone. A stern tone is appropriate when they’re doing or did something dangerous. Use a softer tone to show disappointment or concern, and when reading a story, use a dramatic flair, expression, etc.
*This is sometimes the hardest thing to do in a room full of 22+ children. But it needs to be a priority. Making time to listen to every child several times a week will improve their listening skills and their behavior. If you have a rambunctious class, begin this by focusing on the kids with the wildest behavior and the natural leaders. But be careful not to ignore the quiet ones who do what they’re told--they sometimes have the best stories!
- Keep your language positive. Kids will begin to ignore the Don’ts and the Nos. Instead tell them the right thing to do.
- Repeat directions--especially for those kids who have trouble focusing, tend to “forget” or are very young.
- Have them repeat the directions back to you. (I’ve only ever had to have them do this a few times before they’ve learned to listen.)
- Leave your feelings and frustrations out of it. Tell them what they did wrong, why it was wrong and what their consequences are.
- Understand where they’re coming from. Phrases such as “Why did you do that?” and “You know better” are empty to a child. Kids are curious and impulsive. They don’t always know better and they don’t always know why they do things.
- Follow through after giving directions. Monitor their progress, praise their achievements.
- Limit choices and give the kids incentive to listen and follow directions.
- No Choice: There are some directions that need to be followed no matter what. ex: Don’t touch the fire.
- Two choices: For younger children 2 to 5. You can do this, or that. (Offering choices, even to the littlest ones builds confidence.)
- More choices: For older children who may want to have their own input and who have experience in making appropriate choices.
- Put your instructions in writing. This is a teaching trick I learned during one of my countless laryngitis episodes--even with 5 year olds--and the kids loved it. Write out simple, step-by-step instructions for things such as getting themselves and supplies ready for the next lesson. Let them read the the directions out loud. The stronger readers will help the others and they’ll all feel smarter, more in control and they’ll strengthen their reading skills.