Listening Trouble with 5 year old

Hi Moms!

My amazing and energetic son turned 5 last November. He has always spent much of his time in his own head, and many have commented on how well he “self entertains”. For all his life he has had trouble listening and paying attention to just about anyone. He does play well with his 7 year old sister and other children, but much of the time he will end up zoning out and playing alone in another room. The issue I’m really struggling with is that when I give him instructions, i.e., “brush your teeth and put on pj’s” it does’t stick. I have him come to me and face me(nose and toes to mom please), give him instructions(never more than 2 or 3) and ask him to repeat back to me what I said. 90% of the time he tells me something other. He will say “wash my hands and put on pi’s?” and he is not messing around. It’s like he can look right at me and it still doesn’t stick. If I’m being honest, it concerns me. My mom says it’s a boy thing, but I’m still baffled. These are skills we have been working on all year long, both for homeschool and regular day to day. Some days, like today, I just want to cry. I give him an instruction, ask him if he heard me and see him turn around and go right back to another thing. I am not a screamer, but about once a month, I lose my cool and let him have it. I’ve been praying for wisdom in raising him, but today I’m just done. Is this really a boy thing? Is there a very simple parenting technique I’ve missed? My son is funny, imaginative and loving, but his inability to listen is heart breaking. :pensive:

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What works best for us is when my children and I sit down together and go over a schedule, I know what they are going to do and they know what I plan to do…OF COURSE there are going to be bumps along the day (the Lord wants to keep us on our toes and see how we handle the curve balls He sends our ways), but you can at least remind your son what you discussed. Maybe you can even have your 7yo help remind him of his schedule. The one thing that helps with this the best (I myself stumble big time with it - and my children know it - is consistency! My soon to be 9yo sounds just like your son, but when we go over schedules together he does very good!

Many blessing to you!

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Hi there @MaryW! Like you, I also have a child who has always been a good “self entertainer” and spends a lot of her time playing alone–she has been that way since she was a toddler. I find it interesting what you say about him looking right at you and not being able to repeat back to you what you’ve just said because I noticed the same things coming out in my daughter when we first started homeschooling her during her Kindergarten year four years ago as well (that was when it first began to really become noticeable to me). That first year was super frustrating for me. While I don’t know everything going on in your situation, as all children are different, one thing I did notice with my daughter is that she is simply not (I mean in ANY way) an auditory learner. She could look right at me, listen intently to a story, lesson, etc., and could not, for the life of her, repeat back to me even ONE sentence at a time. It was literally impossible for her, although it took me several frustrating weeks to realize that she physically could not do it.

Through that year and into the next we worked on strategies that incorporated visual cues along with the auditory input and that helped her immensely. Now, four years later, her auditory skills are slowly improving, but even still it is her weakest area. One suggestion I would have would be to make picture cards for your son. One showing a toothbrush and another showing pajamas. Hand him a card to take with him to the bathroom so that he won’t forget on the way what he is supposed to do. Maybe even have a chart somewhere where he can keep the cards (velcro or magnetic) so that when he is done he can replace them. He may even begin to have pride in accomplishing these things and finishing everything on his chart every morning and evening or however often these tasks need to be done.

Please know you are not alone, and most of us, if we’re honest, will join you in saying we’ve all lost our temper and yes, even yelled and lost our cool. We are imperfect and just doing our best each day. My children have gone through phases that have had me worried at times too. My daughter went through phases when she would repeat the same phrase over and over and over all day long (rain-man like!) until I thought something was seriously wrong! My husband though, who has a therapy degree and who counseled children for several years, reassured me that it is perfectly normal for children to have idiosyncrasies about them and that they grow through them and out of them. And she did. She no longer does that at all although I can’t pinpoint the exact day that phase ended.

I hope you’ll find encouragement here and some helpful tips too!


My son is five and he is so imaginative and just incredibly “busy” I always say. Technically he could have done kindergarten this year, but due to him being unable to sit still and unable to concentrate for more than …oh ten seconds I decided that I didn’t want a struggle and he wasn’t ready for school! (He will turn six in September.) He has definitely matured since earlier this year. (Don’t misunderstand me here! He is STILL “busy”) My mom always tells me its a boy thing too! HA She had three of them so maybe she’s right! I worry about him sometimes as well because he can just be so off the walls and scatter-brained. It can definitely be frustrating, you are not alone there! One thing that always surprises me is when people say “Oh you homeschool?! I could never do that, I’m not patient!” I always think- Oh I am sooo not patient! LOL! I agree with @Forchristandkids My son has a laminated sheet with velcro cards on the front with pictures on them. I literally have a card with a toilet, a card with a toothbrush and toothpaste on it, a brush, and a teeshirt and pants. My son knows that when he gets up I will ask if hes ready to do his cards and he does one at a time and when hes done he takes it off the front of the card and puts it on the back! It helps him to get ready for the day, makes things easier for me, and he feels pretty proud of himself when he is done. For all his other scatter brained-ness and hype-rness … only time will tell! BUT, give yourself some grace, parenting isn’t easy. Hang in there!!


Thank you all so much for your responses! It is such a relief that I am not alone!
I’m a little embarrassed because I knew right away that he is in no way an auditory learner where school was concerned, and yet never made it connect to daily life:blush:
I will definitely try some cards for him to help him stay on task!
Thank you all again for your kind words of support and blessings to you!


Just curious, have you had his hearing tested? Could be he has a mild hearing problem and catches some of what you say but is guessing at the rest. Maybe not, but it’s worth looking into.

My son struggles with memory a lot (he’s 8 now, and it’s gotten better than it was…I don’t remember anything like what you described earlier, but I’m thinking it’s because I’m generally telling all my three boys to do something, and they would remind him). I don’t think it’s hearing, cause he hears directions fine, and he’ll forget things like concepts easily too…things I knew he knew. Memorizing lists are especially hard for him, even when it’s only a list of 3 or 4 things and I’ve just told him and asked him to repeat it. But, I have found that incorporating signs has helped. We learned that nouns are “person, place or things” with signs, and some other grammar things, and they seem to stick with him longer. If he can’t remember I’ll see him using the sign to remind himself.

You could easily find signs for common things you do daily (brushing teeth, washing hands, etc.) online, and use them when you can and see if he’s able to listen better.

@goldenecho, I have had his hearing checked! I wondered about it, but he is perfect!

We have been working with some picture cards and sign language and I have seen a huge improvement in him staying on task! It’s been wonderful! He struggled all year to learn our address, phone number and his birthday so I made some index card with pictures and we traced the numbers and letters 3 times, now 5 days later he can tell me all 3 things! WOW! What a blessing it is to come here and glean wisdom from other mama’s! Blessings:heart_eyes: