Sometimes children don’t seem to understand what they hear. Teachers find that these children in the classroom look around to see what everyone else is doing. Parents can become frustrated when children don’t seem to be able to follow instructions. This is often referred to as a comprehension deficit or receptive language difficulties or delay.
Children can have difficulty with understanding what they hear for a number of different reasons. Often, children just haven’t reached that stage of their language development and adults’ sentences can be too long or complex in sentence structure.
Some children have difficulty processing sound (auditory processing), or remembering what they hear (auditory memory), even if their hearing is tested and shown to be alright. Some children have difficulty learning to understand specific concepts (like words for direction such as “right” and “left”, or location such as “behind” or “next to”). Some children have difficulty doing more than one thing at a time, and so if they are thinking about something else they can miss information. Difficulty with working memory skills can also impact on a child’s ability to understand.
There are strategies that parents and teachers can use when children don’t seem to understand what they hear. These strategies help, whatever the reasons for the difficulties may be.
Tips for giving your child the best chance to understand, are:
- Always get their attention first. Use their name and make eye contact.
- Be sure of what your main point is and make your sentences short and clear and to the point. Say exactly what you mean.
- Emphasise the key words. Say the key words louder, higher and with more stress.
- Show them what you mean. Demonstrate, or use gesture, or facial expressions to emphasise what you want them to understand.
- Allow enough time for them to process the information.
- If it is not understood the first time, rephrase what you have said. Say it another way.
You will probably find that you need to over-teach new concepts. Children with comprehension difficulties often need explicit teaching as they find it harder to learn implicitly (eg by observing). Keep explanations simple, but give the explanation in a number of different ways. Don’t assume that what you have said has been understood.