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My five-year-old son recently started kindergarten. I am getting reports from the teacher that he is not listening to her, the lunch aide, and others. This same situation happened last year in pre-school. I met with a child psychologist who suggested that we create a 'daily report card' for my son that the teachers would complete. Each day they would put a happy (or sad) face sticker on activities letting me know how my son behaved. I don't believe that worked well because my son felt very defeated about not ever being able to do well enough. The psychologist then suggested that my son simply look to the other children to see how to behave. I was concerned about that as well since he would lose his sense of self, and in the long term it may be the wrong message about following others. But I am still at a loss to help him listen better at school. We had the same issues at home, but with a stern voice and consequences he does listen. How do I communicate with the school without everyone micro-managing my son and looking for things to write down to send to me?


Julie Fisher Replied: I acknowledge you for seeking additional insight... Each child is different and the daily report card does not work for everyone. I'd suggest starting with talking to your son at night before bed - when the lights are down low and you can ask him questions without him feeling the pressure of a "face to face" talk with mom or dad. Ask him somewhat leading questions like "I know you can be a really good listener, so can you tell me what makes listening in school difficult for you?" OR "I understand how being in a classroom full of kids can create distractions, but can you tell me what would help you to listen better at school?" The questions don't really "lead" the child to give you a specific answer, but they do lead your child to the realization that you know they CAN listen and that you're looking for a solution to come from them. It's the first step on the road to the concept that you're going to support them in whatever way you can, but that they have to help solve the problem too. Then down the road, when there's a new challenge, they know that they're going to be part of the solution. When you talk to your son in the dark, on the side of the bed in his room so that he's feeling like you're on his side (rather than one of those across the table talks where mom and dad are on one side of the table and the child is on the other feeling rather alone) — you want to ask as many questions as you can, but don't begin any of them with WHY? Why do you do this? Why did you do that? Why don't you listen... These questions all feel accusatory. Instead try WHAT or HOW? Like "How can we work together to fix this?" or "What can you and I do to help you listen better?" or "What part of school do you enjoy?" or "At what times, during your day at school, do you find it easiest to listen?" See what kind of answers you get and then take STEP 2: Analyze whether this issue is related to school only, or listening in general. Each kid is different and learns and comprehends differently. For instance, for about 2 years, I tried to get my 7 year old to stay in his bedroom if he woke up before 6:00am. The reason for this is because he woke the baby if he came and played in the living room, but the baby kept sleeping if he stayed in his bedroom and played. The point of my story is that my child is a reader. He can remember anything he's read once, but tell him verbally, and he can't tell you what you told him 5 minutes ago. After two years of "telling" him to stay in his bedroom, I drafted a note that said "Chores" and the first "chore" was "stay in your bedroom until 6:30am." The very next day, he began staying in his bedroom. No kidding... The very next day. And I have not had to remind him since. My point is that it may be somewhat challenging for your child to retain information when it come in certain forms. So if you know how he learns best, then you can apply what you know to this problem in order to solve it. For instance, is there one adult in your son's life that he listens best to? If so, how does that person communicate with him? Can you see any pattern to the times when he's not listening well? For instance, is he a better group listener or does he listen best when he's alone? Does he respond best when you work directly with him? Does he get overwhelmed and tune out when there's a certain kind of input? Does seeing something on the board at school work better than hearing it? When one of my sons went off to kindergarten, he would stand in the middle of the room during free-time and just stare. The teacher thought it was odd so one day I came in to observe. I noticed that he was completely tuned out — in his own little world — so I talked to him about it. He told me that he didn't know what to choose or who to play with during free time. Essentially, he went into overload and just shut down. Different kids respond differently to each situation. Other kids were having a blast playing because there was NO structure, but for him, the lack of structure created a huge problem. So we worked through it. If that's the kind of thing that your son is experiencing, then it takes an insightful parent to really figure out the best solution. A combination of talking with him over several days/nights, possibly observing his behavior (possibly without him knowing that you're there), analyzing what you know to be true about how he learns best and then finally: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER FOR YOURSELF: Now it's time to help the situation from the parent side of things. When someone recommends something that doesn't sit right with you from the beginning, you can pretty much bet that it won't work (for a lot of reasons that I won't go into here). Parental "instincts" are pretty darned good if we're in the right frame of mind to be open to solutions. You bring up very good points about him feeling self-defeated and about the concept of looking to the other children to watch their behavior. It's very difficult for a 5-year-old to make a determination about WHICH kid to model himself after AND we all need to be ourselves while learning how to be not only unique, but a functioning part of a larger group. Since, I'm a coach by nature, I'd like to leave you with a few questions: Do you see any home teaching that supports "not listening" at school. For instance, is there a cartoon, grandparent, other adult, older sibling (or anyone) that is modeling that it's actually positive to NOT listen at school. Sometimes it's the little things that we're missing, like grandpa telling him that kindergarten was a lot of fun and goofing off - and the intent was good, but the message was interpreted as "well then I don't need to listen!" If the answer is absolutely not, then is it possible that your son doesn't see much value in listening at school and so that's why he has chosen not to listen? A talk with him from the important adults in his life can fix this. If he thinks that school is silly or unimportant, he may just need to understand how what he learns in school, can make a huge difference in him being able to do what he wants to do as an adult. Although it may seem like a stretch to explain that good listening in kindergarten can have a positive impact on the rest of his life, it is true. If kindergarten goes well for him, you can pretty much expect that first grade, second grade, and all the rest will too. Start him off on the right foot and life get's a whole lot easier for someone who has at least 12 more years to complete. And finally, I ask you to answer this: Have I, as the parent, taken some time to digest what's really at the root of all of this? And if the answer is "No, I'm just sort of responding and panicking because I want to fix this for my precious little one as fast as I can." Then I ask you to take some quiet time and really think about the answers your son gives you and what your heart tells you is going on here. Today's world provides little time for introspection and quiet - and sometimes the answer is right in front of our nose....Then when the answer comes to you, GO WITH IT! Finally, to your question about communicating with school, be firm, let the teachers know what you want in terms of communication with them. Tell them "No more happy and sad faces!" Tell them that it's not working to have your son feel more defeated. Find what will work for him and tell them OR ask them to try something for a couple of weeks and then tweak it if it's not perfect. My gut says there's something more here — a reason that he's not listening — and it's up to you to help identify it so that he can get on with his learning and enjoy his years of schooling!!! Thanks for asking!
Posted On 2006-10-09 17:30:52
Penny Warner Replied: It's normal for a kindergarten child to have trouble paying attention, listening, and sitting still, and it take some children longer than others to learn these skills. I think positive reinforcement works better than negative - instead of the teacher catching him not paying attention, perhaps she could focus on each time he DOES pay attention, and make a comment about it, such as, "I like the way John is listening!" It also may be that your son is not ready for kindergarten, and that another year of preschool or a repeat of kindergarten might be advised, so he has that extra time for his brain to mature.
Posted On 2006-10-08 12:09:24
Brenda Nixon, M.A. Replied: I think you answered your own question; with a stern voice and consequences you son listens. Continue doing that. You can also tell him your expectations on his behavior when he's at school. Try this: get down on your knees and look your son in the face, then say, "I want you to listen to your teacher and the lunch aide. They are your boss when I'm not around." Also, at home play the "Listening Game" to encourage this skill. When you're sitting on the sofa or in his bedroom, explain the easy rules of the "Listening Game." They are: You whisper something and he listens to see if he can repeat what you said. For example, to your son, you can softly whisper something like, "I like jelly beans." Then see if he can say back to you what you whispered. Try it again. When I taught preschool, the kids LOVED this fun, quick-moving game. It gave us lots of laughs and really encouraged the kids to be quiet and attentive. After you've played the "Listening Game" several times over the week, take it a step farther by occasionally whispering during mealtime or in the car. See if he hears you. The bottom line is you are teaching your son to be quiet and attentive when others talk. Best wishes.
Posted On 2006-10-04 18:57:24
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