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Three (Fun) Ways to Build Attentiveness

Updated: Apr 18

Girl being attentive in class, kids need to learn attentiveness

Is there a more important skill for kids to learn than listening and paying attention? Coming into the world as they do, completely dependent, a child's ability to survive and thrive depends on it.

When they're infants, hearing and seeing are new and wondrous abilities, for them and for us. Think of how fun it was to watch your baby begin responding to your facial expressions, recognize your voice, and turn in response to hearing you call their name; you didn't have to teach them this, they loved it!

Somehow, though, once babies start to gain some autonomy, moving around, grabbing things, knocking things over and so on, they begin to enjoy the ability to ignore us; their natural attentiveness fades.

This is kind of funny at first; it's amazing how fast they can crawl away when we call to them to stop putting something in their mouth, or getting into something we don't want them to. It's a game! Catch me if you can!

However, as they grow older, if they don't learn to pay attention, not only will they not be able to learn, they'll find themselves getting into trouble with anyone in authority, from parents to teachers to employers and beyond. Not only that, but they'll miss out--on instructions and requirements of course, but also on nuances of communication that can only be cultivated as we practice true attentiveness, with our eyes, our ears, and our posture.

As a teacher, I quickly recognized who would be the best students, and it wasn't necessarily the ones who had the most smarts; the students who listened to me, paid attention, and followed instructions, became the best learners. They didn't get marked off for failing to head their papers properly, or turn things in late, or repeatedly ask about things I'd already explained.

So how can we help our kids learn and improve this important skill?

Here are three simple and fun things any parent can do to improve their kids' attentiveness:

  1. Tell them stories. Reading to your kids is obviously super important, and I'm not suggesting telling should replace reading, but when you're telling your kids a story, whether it's one you made up, a fairly tale you know by heart, or something that happened when you were a kid, you're looking them in the eye, adding your own expressions, and they are fully engaged. You can re-tell familiar stories and change details to see how well they listen, add funny bits, or leave things out; see if they catch you out!

  2. Have them draw a picture of something you read--a nursery rhyme, or story, or short verse; here's something I read this morning that would be perfect: "Thou tellest my wanderings; put my tears into thy bottle: are not these things noted in thy book?" Prov. 56:8 What an evocative verse! Don't worry about the old forms of speech, that's just another opportunity for them to listen! Talk through the verse and ask them to imagine their "wanderings", imagine God caring so much about our pain that he puts our tears in a bottle and has a book that he writes them in! Asking them to envision this sort of thing and draw it will help them to listen in a different way, can help language come more alive to them, and encourage them to think and write differently. Some of my most treasured keepsakes are the pictures my own children drew of various verses.

  3. Whisper. I was always amazed by the reaction of my students when I would occasionally have laryngitis from so much teaching; when I had to whisper, everyone was quieter, everyone had to be more attentive. I'd recommend whispering from time to time to get your kids to listen more closely--it's actually much more effective than yelling.

With so much mis-communication and talking past each other in our world, we can all benefit from focusing more on paying attention; this week, speak less, make eye contact, visualize the meaning of what's being said to you, and pay attention.

If you use any of these with your kids, tell me about it! If you have other methods to suggest, let me know! Contact me at

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