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Trouble With Kids Receptive Language

Does your child tune out during conversations or respond in ways that don’t make sense? Kids who have trouble with receptive language may hear and read words just fine. But they can struggle with understanding the meaning of language.

Cross-check more what you might be seeing.

Seems Uninterested When People Are Speaking

At home | When other people talk or share stories, your child rarely asks questions or makes comments. Or your child may interrupt when others are talking.

At school | No matter how short or interesting a lesson maybe, your child doesn’t seem to be listening.

The issue | Kids who have trouble with receptive language may tune out and withdraw because what they hear has little meaning to them. They don’t know how to respond.

Has Difficulty Following Directions

At home | Your child nods when asked to do things. However, your child consistently seems to “nodes in no” your requests or performs only half the task.

At school | The teacher says your child can only follow directions if they’re broken into small steps. Your child may also wait to act in order to copy what other kids are doing.

The issue | Kids who have trouble with receptive language may struggle to follow directions. Spoken instructions are especially tough because they’re often said quickly.

Consistently Misunderstands What Is Asked, Said, or Written

At home | You ask, “How are you doing,” but your child responds with specific actions: “I’m looking for my baseball glove.” Or your child may ask you to repeat the question.

At school | When the teacher asks a question at storytime, your child’s answers are off base. For example, if the teacher asks, “Where was Little Red Riding Hood going?” your child might say, “She has treats in that basket.”

The issue | Kids who have trouble with receptive language issues can often grasp details. But they may struggle to connect words and ideas for greater meaning.

Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Listening Comprehension

It’s not unusual for kids to sometimes tune out their families. Especially when kids don’t want to hear things like “you need to stop playing video games and do your chores”.

If your child does that once in a while, you might not think much of it, other than being annoyed. But if you’re always repeating directions, and your child is always saying “huh?” or “what?” you may wonder whether there’s something else going on. Is your child not listening? Or is what you’re saying not getting through?

It’s possible that your child isn’t listening, and there can be lots of reasons for that. But sometimes kids only seem like they’ve tuned out. Instead, they may be having trouble knowing what people are saying.  

Read about trouble with listening comprehension and what can help.

Challenges You Might Be Seeing

The trouble with listening comprehension affects kids in many ways. But the signs can be confusing. That’s because some of them could be caused by other things.

Here are some common signs that a child may be having trouble with listening comprehension

  • Has trouble following spoken directions , especially ones with multiple steps
  • Often asks people to repeat what they’ve said
  • Is easily distracted, especially by background noise or loud and sudden noises
  • Has trouble with reading and spelling, which involve understanding sounds
  • Has a hard time with math word problems
  • Has trouble following conversations
  • Has a hard time learning songs or nursery rhymes
  • Has trouble remembering details of what was read or heard

What Can Cause Trouble With Listening Comprehension

There are lots of reasons kids don’t listen or follow directions. Some kids lose track of what people are saying because they struggle with focus. They may get distracted and stop listening. They may also have trouble remembering information they just heard.

Some kids have trouble understanding what people are saying for another reason. It involves difficulty with auditory processing.

This isn’t a problem with hearing. It’s an issue with how the brain processes sound. Kids who struggle with auditory processing have trouble picking up on subtle differences in sounds.

If they’re someplace with a lot of background noise, including classrooms, the challenge can be even greater. They might often ask teachers to repeat instructions. That can make it seem like they’re not paying attention.

There are other language challenges, too, that make it hard to follow what people are saying but for different reasons. Some kids have trouble picking up on the tone of voice. Others struggle to understand what people mean when they talk.

What Can Help Kids Who Have Trouble With Listening Comprehension

There are lots of ways to help kids who struggle with listening comprehension. But you need information about your child’s challenges to give the right type of help. You can start getting answers by closely watching your child’s behavior and looking for patterns.

You’ll also want to have your child’s hearing checked out. Talk to your child’s health care provider about what you’re seeing at home and about having your child tested. If it turns out that your child is having trouble with hearing, you can talk about the next steps.

If not, you need to move in a different direction to find out what’s going on. Your child’s teacher may be able to shed light. Reach out and set up a time to talk about what the teacher is seeing in the classroom. Are they the same things you’re seeing at home? Is your child struggling in other ways?

The teacher may have suggestions for strategies to try at home. For example, you could try having your child look you in the eye when you speak. You can also remove any distractions when you’re talking to your child. There may also be things the teacher can do in class.

Struggling to know what people are saying is very frustrating and can make school and socializing hard. Kids may feel like there’s something wrong with them. They may also get in trouble for not listening because people don’t understand.

Your support and encouragement can make a huge difference. Learn how to recognize your child’s strengths. Discover activities to help your child build a growth mindset.


  1. It is clear that our child’s literacy and numeracy skills have developed considerably while under your care. Thank you for helping her to develop the skills and confidence that she will carry forward into the next school year.

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