Shoshanna M.'s son doesn't pay attention in his soccer class, and she and her husband are embarrassed every week at practice. Tiffany L.'s son only "listens when he wants to." These Circle of Moms members say they're frustrated. Do other preschoolers habitually ignore their parents and teachers? And is it normal?
The good news is that (unless there's a hearing problem) there's most likely nothing wrong with a three- or four-year-old who doesn't seem to be hearing you. Paying attention is a skill children are only beginning to learn at this age, and here are some ideas to help them along.
1. Give Limited Choices
Selective attention is a very common characteristic for kids in this age group, and limiting choices can help focus their attention on the present. Why give choices at all? No one likes to be told what to do, and it empowers children to make decisions for themselves, even if they are small ones.
In the case of soccer practice, perhaps the child could be offered the choice of playing offense or defense first, or the choice of whether to team up with a friend or practice skills with a parent. (The coach could likely offer other realistic choices.)
2. Work With Your Child's Learning Style
Rebekah G. points out that some kids have physical, hands-on learning styles, whereas other kids learn by watching others. It is pretty easy to figure out, simply by spending time with your child, how he picks up information. So, for example, if you're trying to teach your kinesthetic learner to recognize letters, you might consider something sort of wacky, such as hiding flash cards all over the room and letting your child go on an active search for them. He's more likely to heed you if he's intrigued by what you've asked him to do.
3. Be Consistent
Many parents say things like "You only get two more chances" to kids who are unresponsive to requests, and then they bend those rules, allowing yet another "last chance." What this teaches kids is that there are no actual rules or boundaries, just the ones you make up as you go along. So, you, as a parent, have a lot of power, but it's not predictable for kids. Michelle G. reminds us that if a child knows what the rules are, and they are enforced, he is much more likely to be repsonsive the first or second time you ask. It's important to remember that you don't ever need to get angry or frustrated, as this might frighten your child, or cause him to be defiant.
4. Avoid Harsh Punishments
Most researchers have found that harsh punishment has adverse effects. So, for example, telling the above preschooler he couldn't play soccer any more would've been a severe consequence for his failure to pay attention. A better response in a situation like this would be to take a break from the class until the child is ready to try again. Even just a couple of minutes can work in many cases.
5. Adjust Your Expectations
As frustrating as it can be, the best rule of thumb is to build in extra time for negotiations with your child so that you don't lose your temper under pressure. Unless your child has a diagnosed condition, such as ADHD, his short attention span and his tendency to ignore your instructions are well within the boundaries of normal for his age.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.