Why won’t my kids listen? Do you get frustrated because your kids ignore you? Or maybe they acknowledge you, but don’t actually seem to hear what you are saying?
Maybe this scenario plays out in your home:
Jack, turn off the video games and do your homework. (calm voice, nicely asked.)
Jack, I said turn off the video games and do your homework! (5 minutes later, slightly more intense voice)
Jack! Turn off the video games now or you will suffer the consequences!! (3 minutes later, voice is raised to yelling level)
Jack, you’re done! Now get to your room and do your homework!! (3 minutes later, you march into the video game area and either take the control from his hand or turn it off. He protests, cries, yells, stomps out of the room)
If that sounds familiar, no wonder you are exhausted at the end of the day. The repetition, the nagging, and yelling can wear any parent out, and the sad part is that for all your effort, the results are weak and you end up going through the whole scenario again and again.
Unless your child truly has a hearing challenge, the reason they do not listen is not because they can’t. It’s because they choose not to. The benefits of either not listening or not responding are greater than the benefits of listening and responding right away.
There are several things that cause your child not to listen:
- They are very engrossed in what they are doing and don’t “hear” your request because it does not feel urgent enough to them. I’m pretty sure if their sports hero walked in the door and said Hi to them, they would respond right away.
- They know that you don’t mean business with your first request. They’ve figured out how many times you will ask before you get “serious.” Maybe it’s the pitch in your voice or the words you use–but they know just how much they can actually get away with before it will really cost them.
- Sometimes kids struggle to listen because your messages are too long or you’re coming off as critical or complaining. They just give up.
- They may also choose not to listen because your messages are unclear or inconsistent.
So what’s the best way to help your kids learn to listen well? Forget the yelling, nagging or threatening. Try some of these tactics instead:
- Make your request when you have your child’s full attention. So, instead of yelling from the other room or even from the doorway to stop the video games and get to their homework, be sure they acknowledge what you’ve said. You may even have to look them in the eye and make your request. Jack, stop for just a second and look at me, I need you to hear what I’m saying.
- Give them fair warning. You have 10 more minutes to play video games, so wrap up the game.
- Explain your expectations and name the consequences. When you have your child’s full attention, tell them that you expect them to listen and respond right away, or at least to acknowledge right away and let you know they are going to do what you ask. For instance, if your child is watching a TV show, they may say, I hear you, Dad, can I do that after this show is over? If they don’t acknowledge or don’t do as they say they will, then what will the consequence be? Whatever you choose that to be, let them know ahead of time what will happen if they don’t cooperate or respond. Your messages must be clear and consistent.
- Use a calm voice. There is never a need to yell or harshly threaten. If you’ve stated the expectation and the consequence, then simply follow through with that. No anger is needed. If you feel the frustration boiling, give yourself time to cool down and administer the consequence as matter of factly as you can.
- Sometimes, offering a choice is an option. Instead of commanding them to do something, give them a decison to make. Jack, time for homework! Do you want to do it at the table or on the couch?
- Ask them to repeat what you’ve said. This affirms that they heard you correctly and reaffirms your request in their mind.
As you implement these suggestions, keep this in mind: it takes time to deprogram your kids if they’ve gotten used to your nagging, yelling or threatening. I’ve worked with parents who wanted overnight results, and it usually doesn’t happen that quickly. Keep calm, communicate clearly, and stick to your consequences without the drama. It will work if you stick to that plan for as long as it takes for your child to realize that you mean what you say and you say what you mean.
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