Attention and listening

What will the speech and language therapist do?

The speech therapist can give you more suggestions and strategies to help develop your child’s attention and listening skills.

Printer.pngTo print this page

Right click anywhere on the page and select 'print'

Download a PDF leaflet version of this page.

These might be:

  • using visual checklists and timetables to help your child know what is expected of them
  • using timers to help your child know how long they need to focus for
  • gradually building up the length of time your child can concentrate for, with regular breaks
  • practising careful listening in games and activities.

Where can I find out more?

Speech and Language UK: Information and support
BBC Tiny Happy People

What is attention and listening?

This is the ability to listen and attend to sounds or activities and then to focus on the sound or activity for long enough in order to learn from it. A child needs to be able to attend to relevant things in their environment in order to be able to learn.

Attention and listening.JPGHere are some common signs that a child may be having trouble with listening comprehension:


  • has trouble following spoken directions, especially ones with multiple steps
  • often asks people to repeat what they’ve said
  • is easily distracted, especially by background noise or loud and sudden noises
  • has trouble with reading and spelling, which involve understanding sounds
  • has a hard time with maths word problems
  • has trouble following conversations
  • has a hard time learning songs or nursery rhymes
  • has trouble remembering details of what was read or heard.

What causes difficulties with attention and listening?

  • middle ear infections can cause temporary listening difficulties
  • something more interesting is going on and your child gets distracted
  • the activity may be too difficult
  • your child cannot understand what is being said
  • there may be too much of background noise and your child cannot focus on what you are saying
  • some children cannot remember what was said to them and they therefore cannot carry out the instruction

What can I do to help?

Take your child for a hearing test. Speak to your GP, school nurse or health visitor to get a referral for a hearing test.

Speak to your child’s school or preschool to check if they notice similar difficulties and if they have any strategies that may help.

Reduce background noise and distractions where possible.

Getting down to your child’s level whenever possible.

Using visual prompts, natural gestures and a range of facial expression and tones of voice to engage your child’s interest.

Focus your child’s attention before giving instructions e.g. ‘Charlie, listen....’

Check listening and understanding by asking your child to repeat instructions back to you.

Keeping activities short, using a kitchen timer to encourage your child to stay focused for a set time. Stop the activity when the timer rings, even if the task is going well.

Remember to use an appropriate level of language by using short and simple sentences and instructions.

Check that the information has been understood:

  • explain the task using language your child is likely to understand
  • observe your child’s responses. Ask your child to explain what they have to do
  • make sure they know when the task is complete
  • if necessary, show your child what to do rather than repeating lots of language.

Use pictures, objects and real situations to reinforce language.

Refocus your child’s attention where necessary to help them keep on task.

Take turns – this maintains interest especially if your child can be the ‘teacher’.

Give praise and reinforce appropriate listening and attention.

Children & Young Peoples Speech and Language Therapy Department

Telephone: 01202 443208

Attention and listening