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Why is my 4-year-old such a poor listener?
Q: My 4-year old boy is bright and energetic, but his listening comprehension is terrible. I can look him in the eye and tell him something and he can’t repeat it back to me, especially if there is anything in the room that catches his eye. It’s causing problems in discipline. Half the time he doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong because he doesn’t listen when I tell him why I’m taking his toy away or having him sit in time-out. Should he be better at listening comprehension by now, or will it improve as he gets older?
A: I’m not entirely clear on what you might want him to repeat to you; it isn’t too often that we ask young children to repeat exactly something we say to them. Whatever the nature of the repetition, my guess is that what you might be saying is long and complex and that he just “tunes you out,” knowing he can’t repeat it. Try to break into small units anything you want him to repeat and see if that helps.

With regard to his not knowing why he has a toy taken away or is in time-out, I would simply give the reason one time. If he protests that he is innocent or maintains that he doesn’t know why he’s being disciplined, just say, “Think about it while you’re in time-out, and I think you’ll understand.”

Remember to speak to him slowly and distinctly. That may also help his comprehension.