Getting kids to listen is a challenge in every home. Perhaps this scene plays out in your home: You’ve asked your child to do something…once, twice, three, even four times. And no response.
“Maybe they didn’t hear me?” you think. So, you ask again calmly.
It doesn’t take long for you to feel yourself getting sucked into the cycle of Repeat. Remind. Repeat. Remind—until your fuse blows.
In a moment of utter defeat, you’re yelling the same demands you had requested calmly just minutes before. The energy escalates, everyone becomes frustrated and it often ends in a major fight with your child.
Getting a reluctant child to listen can be a real trial for parents. They often tend to see listening behaviors in terms of respect; “If my child won’t listen and pay attention, but rather seems distracted all the time, it is a sign of disrespect.”
Here’s the thing though, if you want to get a handle on your child’s unresponsiveness, the first thing you need to do is figure out WHY he is NOT listening.
More often than not, his lack of response is a SYMPTOM, not the actual problem.
Why don’t kids listen?
Children of all ages–toddlers through teens–have a hard-wired need for power. When children don’t have opportunities to exert their power in positive ways–choosing what clothes to wear, making the dinner menu, picking what game to play, etc.–they will exert their power in negative ways.
By choosing NOT to listen, children can assert their power. This behavior is simply a way children express their need for more control and decision-making ability in their lives.
I’m not suggesting you let them call every shot. However, you can give your children power within your boundaries. By doing this, cooperation from your children will improve and the dreaded repeat – remind – repeat – remind cycle will come to an end.
Before we go further with how to deal with the Not listening, let’s talk about that description, “NOT listening.” Is it just a label?
What exactly are you referring to when you say your child “doesn’t listen?”
When talking to parents, “not listening” usually ends up being a blanket term that covers a myriad of issues. Because “not listening” is so broad, it can be difficult to find a solution.
I’m not saying there aren’t times when your child is just flat-out ignoring you–that happens! However, more often than not, it’s less about “not listening” and more about some underlying issue.
Are they tired, hungry, or not feeling well? Or, is there some deeper control issue that is causing them to disconnect?
What are some of the areas where your child seems to be tone-deaf?
Don’t lump every communication shutdown under just a “not listening” umbrella.
Dig in and discover what’s really going on, then you can make an action plan to specifically address that problem.
Here are some reasons your child may not be listening:
- You are saying too much. Kids tend to tune out lectures. There’s such a thing as an overload of information.
- They are focused on something else. It happens—you’re busy making dinner and you want to remind your child to finish his homework so you yell at him from across the room or across the house. But whenever possible, try to get into the habit of taking the time to go to him and speak to him face-to-face. The chances of your child listening to you are increased exponentially if you pay attention to him fully when making a request.
- You are criticizing them. Would you like it if someone was constantly criticizing you and would you want to pay attention to what that person was saying? If you are routinely negative (“I don’t know why you can’t ever listen!”) then your child just might just naturally tune you out.
- You are either ordering or begging. Going full drill sergeant (“Pick up those toys right now!!!”) or simpering beggar (“Please, please, please, can’t you pick up your toys?”) are both likely to yield the same ineffective results.
- You are not following your words with action. If you repeatedly ask your child to pick up his toys and you don’t follow through with consequences when he ignores you, then you are teaching him to, well, ignore you.
If, after truly looking at the situation and concluding that it’s truly a case of your child really does not listen well, here are some things you can take to ensure your kids actually hear you.
- Don’t expect results overnight. Building good communication habits is a process that can take a long time to develop. Instead of expecting your child to always obey you the first time you say something, look at the development of his listening skills as part of building an important foundation that will help you and your child develop a strong relationship in the years to come.
- Get on their level.
- Do away with don’t. Instead, tell your child what to DO.
- Say YES to YES. While there will still be situations that require a hard “no,” by offering more “yeses” you’ll increase the chances your kid will tune you back in.
- Use fewer words. Most of us dilute our message and lose our child’s attention by using too many words. Use as few words as possible when you give instructions.
- Say Thank You in advance.
- Be sure your child understands. A simple way to ensure your child has heard you and that she understands is to ask her to repeat back what you said.
- Make an observation. If you see a task that’s been left undone, don’t dive in with a big reprimand, just make an OBSERVATION: “I see a jacket on the floor,” or you can ask, “What is your plan for taking care of the trash today?” “What is your plan for?” is one of my favorite strategies to avoid power struggles. It’s empowering because it’s assumptive on your part that they have a plan–and gives your child an opportunity to save face and quickly come up with a plan in the moment if they didn’t already have one!
- Don’t start talking until you have your child’s attention. Connect BEFORE you start speaking. That means you can’t bark orders from across the room and expect to get through.
- Don’t repeat yourself. If you’ve asked once and not gotten a response, don’t just repeat yourself. You don’t have your child’s attention. Go back to Step One, above.
- See it from their point of view. If you were busy with something you liked doing and someone ordered you to stop doing it and do something else that was not a priority to you, how would you feel? Your child doesn’t have to share your priorities, they just has to accommodate your needs. And you don’t have to share their priorities, but it will help immensely if you can acknowledge how much they want to keep doing whatever he’s doing.
- Engage cooperation. No one wants to listen to someone who’s giving orders; in fact, it always stimulates resistance. Think about how you feel when someone orders you around. Instead, keep your tone warm and when possible, give choices.
- Set up routines. Most of parents’ communication to kids consists of nagging. No wonder children don’t listen. The more routines you have, the less you have to be a drill sergeant. What kinds of routines? Habits, like what the kids do before they leave the house (brush teeth, use toilet, pack backpack, put on shoes, etc.) If you take photos of your child doing these tasks and put them onto a small poster, your child will learn them over time. Put her in charge of what she needs to do. She’ll have a new skill and your role will be limited to asking questions:
- Look for understanding. Most of the time when kids don’t “listen” they just haven’t tuned in to us. But if your child repeatedly seems unable to process your instructions, she may have an auditory processing disorder. Adopt the tips above and experiment with giving your child multi-step instructions. If you’re concerned, consult with your pediatrician for referral to an audiologist.
- Pare down your orders to what’s really non-negotiable. If you worked for someone who constantly badgered you with orders, would you feel like cooperating? You don’t want every interaction with your child to be an order. So maximize the loving, happy interactions, and minimize the orders.
Package all of these into three easy steps: CCE
These are the basics of communication, and work when you need to get cooperation from someone of any age. Why do we forget them when we interact with children? Because we think (at least unconsciously) that children should simply do what we say when we say it. But kids are humans, and humans don’t like to be ordered around. You’ll always get better cooperation when you connect first!
If this is an area of your parenting that needs work, please schedule a free intro call here.