Kids not listening is the most frequent parenting complaint, and one of the most frustrating. Fortunately, it’s a simple problem to fix, if you know one secret: the person who needs to change their behavior is you.
These tips will help you and your child enjoy better communication and see results from day one.
When we need something from a coworker, we walk to their workspace, say their name, and look them in the eyes. Once we have their attention, we explain our request. Communicating with your kids shouldn’t be all that different.
It might seem too time-consuming to stop in the middle of making dinner to walk to your child’s room and ask them to take out the recycling, but is it? If you’re shouting from another room, what are you teaching your child about how to get your attention when they need it?
Children, especially young kids, have a hard time with complex instructions. Instead of telling your son, “Feed the dog—and don’t forget to put the dog food away like last time—then fill his water dish and grab the mail” try saying, “Please feed and water the dog.”
When he/she is done, you can decide if cleanup steps are in order or whether you can move on to asking him to get the mail.
Have you trained your child to ignore you by repeating your requests five or six times? Chances are, they’ve learned to recognize in your voice the moment when they actually need to comply.
If you’ve taken the time to engage your child’s attention, given a clear and simple request, and checked that they understood it, you shouldn’t need to repeat yourself. No, your daughter still may not pick up her 700 beads. But when you follow through on your intention to vacuum the carpet, a natural consequence will set in. She may decide she prefers to pick them up next time, rather than dig through the dust bin to retrieve them.
In many situations, there is a natural consequence. In others, you can establish the logical consequence of not listening upfront. In both situations, follow-through on the consequence is the essential step to avoid repeating yourself.
“I’m not ok with the natural consequence of my kids not wearing bike helmets so the rule in our house is that the bike goes up on the garage wall for a week if they ride with no helmet. I stopped reminding them but they both miraculously stopped “forgetting” after they walked for a week.”
So much of what we tell our children is the same every day: hang up your jacket, feed the dog, brush your teeth, take out the trash. Clearly, documented routines can spare your voice and temper.
For school-age kids, a posted list of before-school and after-school activities is a good place to begin.
For preschool and younger kids, printed photographs of them performing the required tasks in your morning routine can help them to learn and check off each step.
Discuss the list when it goes up and then resist the urge to nag. When your child asks to go out to play, you can ask if they’ve completed all the items on their list. Over time, and with consistency, your need to remind them of their tasks will fade away.
Did you know a whisper can draw more attention to your words than a shout? It’s true, but hard to recall when your blood pressure is rising. Consciously modulating your voice is a powerful communication tool used by public speakers and savvy parents.
If you’ve taken the steps above, you should already have reduced the temptation to shout. But there are still times we need our children to take special notice of warning words.
Next time this happens, try adopting a low, firm tone and speaking slowly. Of course, if your toddler is fifty feet away and about to walk into traffic, do shout! If you’ve reserved shouting only for danger, think how much more effective it will be.
Just like us, kids want to be recognized when they’ve been helpful. A sincere thank you doesn’t just reinforce their listening skills, it models gratitude and good manners.
When our children approach us, do we demonstrate the kind of listening behavior we want to see in them? Do we put down our phone or only pay them peripheral attention?
Modeling the listening behavior we want to see when we approach them is more important than we may realize. As the saying goes, kids hear little of what we say, but one hundred percent of what we do.
Good communication is about respect and empathy on both sides. If we make the mistake of thinking kids should listen because our agenda is more important than theirs, we are sending ourselves down the path of nagging and frustration.
Modeling a communication style that respects everyone’s time and needs is the surest way to teach kids to listen when we speak.