Listening & Understanding


Listening and understanding is when attention is given to the things that we hear and how we subsequently make meaning and comprehend what we have heard.


Bella is on the floor playing a game with Mom. Mom asks, “Bella, where are your toes?” Bella lifts up her foot and with her hand on her toes she says, “Here Bella’s toes.” Mom then asks Bella, “Can you f ind the toes on your other foot?” Bella starts to lift up the same foot to show her mom her toes again. Bella says, “My toes!” Mom then points to Bella’s other foot to show Bella what she is asking and asks the question again.


Bella is listening to her mom each time, but she does not respond correctly both times. The first time she is asked to f ind her toes, Bella understands the question. The second time Bella does not understand that the question has changed, and that she is being asked to f ind the toes on her other foot. When a parent can rephrase a question or use gestures to show alternate meaning, she is giving her child the chance to understand and act on her own.

The more opportunities your child has to listen to lots of people talking—verbal communication between people in her environment— the better chance she has of understanding what she hears.

Because Bella is still developing her listening and understanding skills, Mom needs to provide more support to her by using a gesture to help clarify her question and asking the question again.

Sometimes it seems like your child is not listening to you. That is because listening requires attention and focus, and these are skills your child is still developing. This is why making eye contact with your child when speaking becomes so important. It will help him listen better and understand what you are saying when you are able to grab his attention.

There are several techniques you can use when supporting your child’s listening and understanding skills. Like Bella’s mom in the example, give your child a visual cue by pointing to the object or area you are talking about. Also, when giving one-step directions (“Bring your shoes, please.”) reinforce what you asked (“What did Mommy ask you to bring?”). This will let you know if your child understands what you are saying or if you need to give a visual cue by pointing to the object.

With your support as your child matures, his ability to listen and understand will increase. Remember, listening and understanding lead to greater cognitive development.