Last week, I shared some simple and playful ways to help kids learn how to listen to directions.
The game that I suggested for helping to teach these skills can be very fun and very effective in teaching kids to listen. But often times when I talk with parents and child care providers about using this game, adults are concerned about children learning to listen to anything that anyone tells them to do. They’re worried about kids getting manipulated by a stranger who shouldn’t be trusted or giving in to peer pressure and becoming a bully because they “had their listening ears on.”
Those adults are right to worry. Since “having listening ears on” to kids means to do what they’re asked to do, then teaching children to always have their listening ears on is just setting children up to be manipulated or tricked into doing something they shouldn’t do, under the guise that they should be a “good kid” and do what anyone asks them to do.
In this post, I’m going to share with you an easy variation to the Simon Says game from my last post that will help kids to learn if and when it is appropriate to wear their listening ears.
If you are playing this game with young toddlers—ages 1 and 2—then you shouldn’t expect the kids to know the right answer. Instead, you should teach them the right answer and help them to practice the right answer. But for older kids—ages 3 and up—you can expect that they might know the right answer. If they know it, then praise them for their knowledge and talk about why the answer is right; if they don’t know it, then give them some hints to help them know why the right answer is the right answer!
Now, onto the game.
If you remember from last week, the Simon Says game that teaches listening skills goes like this: The leader says, “If you have your listening ears on then…” and then gives a command. The kids are supposed to do what the leader said, and this demonstrates a kid who has his listening ears on. The leader points out who has their listening ears on (those who are doing what is asked) and those who have forgotten to put their listening ears on (those who aren’t doing what is asked). Then, the leader gives another command. After a few turns, the child who was wearing his listening ears the most may get a turn at being the leader.
In the variation of the game that teaches children if and when to use listening ears, the leader provides more options.
The leader says:
Ok kids, put your listening ears on (while placing her hands behind her own ears. Now listen up. Sometimes, using our listening ears can get us or someone else into trouble, or hurt someone else’s feelings. When someone is asking us to do something that could get us hurt or could hurt someone else, then we shouldn’t use our listening ears. Instead, we say No Thank You! Can you all say that with me? NO THANK YOU!
Now, let’s play our game again. But I’m going to try to trick you into doing something that could get you hurt or could hurt someone else’s feelings. If you think that you should use your listening ears, then do what I say; but, if you think that I’m asking you to do something that could hurt you or someone else, then say, ‘No Thank You’. Is everybody ready?
Then, the leader simply provides different scenarios, some that the children should listen to and others that are unsafe or could be considered bullying behaviors, like:
- Someone you don’t know at the grocery store asks you to come with him to his car. Do you use your listening ears or do you say, “No Thank You!?”
- Your teacher asks you to sit criss cross applesauce. Do you use your listening ears or do you say, “No Thank You!?”
- Your friend asks you to pinch one of your classmates. Do you use your listening ears or do you say, “No Thank You!?”
After the children have answered, the leader should talk with them about their answer and let them know if they answered correctly or incorrectly, and why. If they were wrong, the leader should make sure to tell them the correct answer and what could happen if they pick the wrong answer.
I’ve done this activity with a variety of different ages of groups. No matter what age group I’m working with, there’s always a kid or two in each group that really knows these answers, and many kids who aren’t sure what they are supposed to do in these situations. That suggests to me that there are either some really smart kids out there who understand social rules and stranger danger, or these kids have parents who have been talking with them about how to stay safe and appropriate with other people. I’m inclined to think that the latter is the answer and that’s why it is crucial that you start now talking with kids about how to say NO to a stranger and NO to peer pressure.
While really young kids won’t quite be able to grasp the concepts that you are trying to teach, by the time they are 3, with regular instruction in when to use listening ears and when to say, “No Thank You!” those kids will know exactly how to act when approached by a stranger or pressured by a friend to do something wrong.
Now let’s just hope those skills continue on into that dreaded stage of development called adolescence…