Active Listening for Kids: Seven Ways You Can Help

Active listening. It’s one of those phrases that’s thrown out all the time on parenting websites and in self-help books—and for good reason. After all, it’s a pretty vital skill!

Active listening promotes good communication, which in turn helps kids work more efficiently, forge deeper connections with friends and family, and develop a strong sense of self-reliance. As such, kids with a strong foundation of active listening can use their skills to thrive in all sorts of environments, ranging from the classroom to the dinner table.

We’re not going to delve too deeply into the nitty-gritty of active listening for kids in this post. If you’re curious about the finer details (and who wouldn’t be?) you should check out this previous blog post to learn a little more. Instead, we’re going to share some ways that you can help your kids improve their active listening skills. After all, practice makes perfect!

Without further ado, here are eight ways that you can help your kiddo hone their active listening abilities—and have some fun along the way.

Play a Game of Simon Says

Your child likely already knows this one—after all, what kiddo hasn’t played Simon Says at their next-door neighbor’s birthday party? What they may not know, however, is that every time they play the game, they’re practicing their active listening and communication skills! This is because the game requires careful listening to win. Here’s how to play:

  1. Designate one person to be “Simon.”
  2. Simon will command the rest of the players to perform a certain action.
  3. Players should only follow Simon’s order if it begins with the words “Simon says…”
  4. Players are out of the game if they follow an order that does not begin with “Simon says…” or if they ignore an order that does begin with the phrase.
  5. The game continues until one player remains. They win!
  6. The winning player is Simon during the next round.

Broken Telephone

Like Simon Says, Broken Telephone is a classic party game that emphasizes active listening skills. Players have to pay close attention to a whispered phrase, then use their communication skills to accurately communicate the same phrase to the next player. My sisters and I used to love playing this one—though my mom would probably argue that it didn’t benefit our listening skills much. Regardless, here are the rules:

  1. Arrange players into a line.
  2. A player at the end of the line begins the game by whispering a phrase to the person next to them. They can only whisper the phrase once!
  3. This player listens to the phrase, then whispers it to the player beside them.
  4. The game continues until the telephone message reaches the final player, who then announces what they heard to the group.
  5. If the phrase hasn’t changed, everyone wins! If it has changed, the player that went last moves to the first spot and begins again with a new set of words.

Backwards Pictionary

We’ve all played Pictionary, right? Typically, the game is played by drawing a picture line-by-line as your team guesses what the image depicts. While Pictionary is always a good time, it doesn’t really help with listening for kids. Backwards Pictionary, on the other hand, couldn’t be more beneficial. It’s easy to play—all you need is drawing material, two players, and a bowl’s worth of folded papers with a word written on each. Here’s how it works:

  1. One player is the instructor and the other is the drawer.
  2. The Instructor picks a paper from the bowl and reads the word quietly to themself.
  3. The Instructor then tells the Drawer how to draw a picture of the word, explaining one line at a time.
  4. The Drawer must listen and follow the Instructor’s directions.
  5. As soon as the Drawer guesses what they’re drawing, they get a point!

When playing Backwards Pictionary, both the Instructor and the Drawer have to rely pretty heavily on their active listening and communication skills. After all, one incorrectly placed line can change the whole drawing and make everyone lose a point!

Play I Went to the Zoo

The last (and certainly not least) game on our list is one of the best ways to give your kiddo some active listening exercise. Playing I Went to the Zoo gives your child’s listening ears a pretty strenuous workout, as it tasks them with listening, memorizing, and repeating previously heard information. You might be surprised at how well your child’s memory works! Here’s how to play I Went to the Zoo:

  1. Begin the game by saying “I went to the zoo and saw a…” followed by the name of any animal. For example, “I went to the zoo and saw a cheetah.”
  2. Your kiddo then repeats what you said, and adds on another animal, i.e. “I went to the zoo and saw a cheetah and an anaconda.”
  3. The next player does the same.
  4. For each turn, repeat the animals that have already been said, then tack a new one on to the end. You can’t repeat an animal.
  5. The round ends when a player skips an animal on the list.

Have Nightly Story Time

Few things are more beneficial for children than reading out loud with an adult. As NPR reports, it improves a child’s literacy, boosts their confidence, and gives them tools necessary for emotional regulation. Unsurprisingly, it also helps with active listening.

As you and your child read together, take some time in between pages to ask them questions about the book. Invite them to explain what is happening, where the story is taking place, and who the main characters are. If your child is a bit more advanced, try asking them how and why questions. How did the hero save the day? Why did the princess run away from the castle?

If they’re unable to answer these questions, go back and reread the story to give their ears a second chance. Do this as many times as they need!

Listen to an Audiobook

I’ve recently been converted to audiobooks. Rather than listen to an album during my commute to class, I’ll pop on a novel and spend a few minutes getting lost in another world. Listening to audiobooks is easy, entertaining, and a great way to vanquish your TBR list on-the-go. They also help kids develop active listening skills, much in the same way reading aloud does!

If your kiddo is lucky enough to own a smartphone from Troomi Wireless, it’s a cinch to listen to their favorite audiobooks using KidSmart® Apps like Audible and Libby. The latter is my personal favorite. Libby is an awesome app that brings your local library’s collection of ebooks and audiobooks right to your child’s smartphone. All they need to download their next adventure is WiFi and a library card—it doesn’t get easier than that!

Take a Mindful Listening Walk

Exploring the outdoors is great for kids. It gets their bodies moving, fills their lungs with fresh air, and gives them the chance to hone their active listening by paying attention to the world around them. Help them put their skills to the test setting out on a mindful listening walk!

As you and your kiddo walk, take a few minutes to embrace silence and listen to the sounds of your neighborhood. Make note of any strange bird calls, beeping cars, cat meows, or babbling brooks. Encourage your child to make a list of everything they hear. Once you’ve reached the end of your walk, ask them which sounds were their favorites. You might be surprised at all the noises they were able to pick up.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like emotional regulation and technology know-how, active listening is one of the most important skills kids can develop—and the best way to develop it is by practicing. If your child needs some extra help learning to listen, take a few minutes each day to do one (or more!) of these activities. Who knows, while these activities are geared towards listening for kids, your own skills might benefit from them as well.