How loud should I shout?

– written by Dr Anna-Mari Kruger, Speech and Language Therapist and Audiologist, Words First Ltd Resource Developer

If I had a penny for every time a parent said to me: “There is nothing wrong with my child’s hearing, he just doesn’t listen!”, I would have been rubbing shoulders with Bill and his millionaire buddies by now.


Upon which I normally replied, “How do you know there is nothing wrong with his hearing?”


If your child is able to hear you when you’re sitting next to him on the bed in a quiet bedroom, it doesn’t equal hearing you over the distance of the living room with the noisy TV in the background. It also doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be able to hear his teacher giving instructions to twenty talkative five-year olds about which colour paint they should use.


So, let’s talk about hearing. Hearing is the physical action of sound detection and requires little response. But normal hearing is vital for a child to be able to listen well. A hearing screening test is a simple and cost-effective procedure to make sure your child has indeed normal hearing (which means the ability to hear different frequency sounds as soft as 15decibels in quiet surroundings).


So, if you’ve determined that your child can indeed hear normally, the answer to the question: “How loud should I shout?” is: Don’t shout. While a child with hearing loss may benefit from a slightly raised voice, shouting is never a good idea to communicate with a child, despite his level of hearing (this is now unless he is running wildly across a busy road…)


Which brings me to listening. While we hear with our ears, we listen with our brains. In other words, listening involves a much more complicated set of actions e.g. attention, discrimination, identification, comprehension and very often also requires a response. By looking at this list, you can probably guess how many different paw-paws can hit the “listening fan”. If focused attention is a problem for a child, listening might be difficult. If language is a problem, listening might be difficult. And if listening is a problem, imagine the knock-on effect it might have on learning.


My youngest has just entered Grade R. As a speech-language pathologist with two children who already safely made it into secondary school, I thought that I was prepared for the educational onslaught this time around. No such luck. It seems as if the educational bar is forever moving upwards and parents and children are struggling to keep up with new curriculums, extra activities, homework, meetings and a million other things. My personal “motto” this year is: If you want to get a grip do it one hand at a time. Five fingers at a time. Five is about the magic number that I can safely manage without losing my marbles. And so far, it has worked quite well.

If my five-year old needs to prepare for “show-and-tell” we use the five-finger principle. Think of only five things you would like to say about your favourite toy.

No more than five things on my daily to-do-list. And finish each one of them before moving on to number six.

So, if you feel that shouting is the only way to get your child’s attention, here are my top-five recommendations for moms of pre-schoolers when it comes to hearing and listening:


  1. Have your child’s hearing screened to make sure he is hearing well enough to cope in quiet and noisy surroundings.
  2. Make listening part of your child’s daily routine. How many different things can you hear when you are outside or driving in the car? Any new or strange sounds?
  3. Make sure you have your child’s attention before giving an instruction. And then give the instruction only once.
  4. Make sound-games part of your daily routine. Instead of saying a word, sound-out the word e.g. “It’s time for your b-a-th” or “Which shirt would you like to put on? Your r-e-d one or your g-r-ee-n one?”
  5. Read aloud to your child. As often as you can and with as much enthusiasm as you can muster. Continue reading even when your child starts to read himself, but choose books with interesting plots and beautiful illustrations to make sure you both enjoy this special time together.


How loud should you shout if your child is not listening? Don’t shout. Talk, whisper if you have to, but do it daily. One hand at a time.