The Role of Listening in Friendships. Plus Listening-Milestones.

A common problem among children with social skills difficulties is lack of attention to what is being said. Not listening can make a child seem self-centered, and it can cause messages to be misinterpreted. Both these things make it difficult to make and keep friends. In order to be a good friend we have to listen.

So what does it mean to listen? Many people believe that listening is just about hearing, or about following the rules. Listening however is a very different skill, and it turns out that most of us are not very good at it. It seems we only remember about 25-50 % of what we hear, and poor listening skills are mostly to blame for this.

Listening involves receiving (hearing) a message, attending to what is being said, and understanding. Most often the area of attention is where listening breaks down.

When someone is speaking to us, we are often thinking about what we can add to the conversation and what we want to say next. Sometimes we may be thinking about something different all together. In this case our hearing is just fine and our ability to comprehend the message may be perfect, but we are not attending to the message. Therefore the message is heard but it is not understood.

It can be frustrating if you feel like your child isn’t a very good listener. While this is to be expected of very young children, older children should be demonstrating a higher level of listening skills due to their improved ability to attend to a message.

To help you set reasonable expectations for your child’s listening skills, here are some milestones:

Level 1: 0-1 year

*Child is very distractible.

*Attention fleeting.

*Child cannot attend to what you say

Level 2: 1-2 years

*Child can attend to own choice of activity for a longer period of time, but cuts self off from everything else.

*Your speech interferes with the activity the child is doing. Child needs to ignore you to concentrate.

Level 3: 2-3 years

*Still single channeled attention, but begins to attend to adults.

*Child can listen if he stops activity and looks at adult. Needs adult help to do this.

Level 4: 3-4 years

*Attention is single channeled but more easily controlled

*Child looks automatically when adult speaks. Can shift attention from task to speaker

Level 6: 5-6 years

*Integrated attention is well established.

*Child listens and attends well in class.

So what should you do if you see that your child is not reaching these milestones; or; if you don’t feel your child is listening as well and he (or she) should?

The first thing you should do is consider the example you set when someone is talking to you. Are you actually listening? Can you repeat what has been said? Can you formulate an appropriate response? Or are you thinking about what you want to tell them or ask them?

The example we set as parents has a significant effect on our children. Children model the behavior of the adults in their lives. So, it is important to set a good example.

The other thing you should do, is talk to a qualified professional to see if something more significant is going on. If so, therapy may be necessary. While that may sound scary, it really isn’t. Therapy should be fun. The important thing to remember is that listening skills can be improved.

Milestones Source: Cooper, J., Moodley, M. and Reynell, J. (1978) Helping Language Development: A Development


Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More