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We are having a challenge with our 4 year old listening to directions. We try to keep the directions as simple as possible, but he seems to be very distracted, most of the time. I realize a lot of this is a "4 year old phase", but I was hoping you could offer some advice or tools we can follow to help develop his ability to focus as well as his listening skills. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.

Teaching your child to listen is not easy. It is something we struggle with everyday. I’m happy to offer a few tips, but I won’t claim expertise just experience.

We ask our children to respond when spoken to. We prefer “Yes Mom” and “Yes Dad”. When a child acknowledges that they have been spoken to there a greater chance of the child actively listening and doing. It is best that when coaching your children to respond, if the coaching comes from another adult. Saying things like “Jimmy - mom just called you for dinner - What do you need to say?”

With one of our boys we found he seemed to listen and respond better if we physically touched him (holding his hands or touching a shoulder). Eventually, we gave this up as we found him using the same techniques with his peers. We are pretty certain his peers were not fans of this method.

Will often use time out-ish techniques. When our 3 year old goes through a period where he is “into” everything and not listening we will send him to his room. He is allowed to play with toys, but left there until he settles down (usually 10 to 30 minutes).

A great tool for a poor listening 4 year old is a stroller. When you are out and he does not listen well (ie come when called) buckle him in to the stroller. When he calms down explain that you have buckled him the stroller because he was not listening well. Tell him that you are going to test his listening again after you let him out of the stroller. Let him out and after a few minutes call him. If he does not come, put him in the stroller and repeat the procedure. If he does come verbally reward him.

Playing games like “Simon says” can develop listen skills in a fun way. Finally, I would recommend the Chip system for Behavioral Modification that we use at our home.



Written February 2011 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician






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