Would you like to know the secret to getting your kids to listen?
Isn’t it funny how words like “ice cream,” “park,” or anything else that strikes kids as fun are heard right away, yet anything boring, like “it’s time to clean up your toys” or “go to bed,” can sail right over their heads simply by your children pretending they never even heard it in the first place? So if you want to know the secret to getting your kids to listen, read on and find out how.
Yes, your children’s ears are working!
If you’re a parent who seems to have children with cloth ears, let me first assure you that you’re not alone. Not listening to Mom and/or Dad is one of the things that I see parents struggle with most. Mom and/or Dad frequently complain that no matter what they “say,” their little one runs off and does whatever it is they want anyway, completely tuning them out.
Many parents first notice this phenomenon of being completely ignored when their child starts wanting a degree of independence, as in the toddler age group. Now, it’s true, toddlers do get distracted, so sometimes they simply don’t hear because they are fully locked on something else. My son used to have a thing for stereo buttons when he was little and make a dash for them, ears closed to everything except the call of the buttons. I have to say, I wish I still had that kind of single-minded concentration, as I might get more work done.
They’re not listening on purpose; it’s not just being distracted.
Still, at one point, you’re likely to notice a more deliberate kind of not listening—the type that you’re sure they hear, but they decide it’s in their best interest to simply ignore you anyway because something much more interesting is going on.
That’s because your toddler is beginning to notice that they are really a fully separate entity from you. They can do simple things on their own, and that’s an exciting and powerful feeling. Along with this heady appreciation of their burgeoning independence, they also figure out that just as they can do things you want, they can also refuse to do those things as well, something that’s likely to drive even the most reasonable parent up a wall.
The secret to getting your kids to listen: Yes, it’s a stage, but…
This new obstinacy usually comes with a lot of “no”s and a few meltdowns thrown in. It can even generate some interesting exasperated expressions or other strange behaviour on the part of mom and/or dad, especially if the toddler makes a big enough fuss by throwing their arms and legs around a bit.
At first, depending on your child’s personality and your reaction to them, you’re likely to get a mix of obstinacy and not listening, but as children age, they become far better at just the ignoring part, until many parents swear that if a degree could be offered in “not listening,” theirs would get a first.
By not listening they are sending you a message.
But don’t worry, there is hope. Understanding the whys of not listening is the first part of making sure you are finally heard. With any child, listening forms part of how your child generally relates to you, so you can use it as a barometer to find out how you’re doing.
Let’s say you’re being ignored constantly by your four-year-old. Well, that’s because your four-year-old has learned that you likely don’t follow through on what you say. Now let’s look at this from an adult perspective, so we can see clearly how this develops.
The secret to getting your kids to listen: Just like adults, children learn what we teach them.
Imagine if you have to take a week-long class for your work, and every day the class is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. As asked, you show up promptly at nine, but the instructor doesn’t, and finally shows up at ten, making a lame excuse. At the end of the class, your instructor details how important promptness is to your success and encourages you to be there on time the next day.
The next day you again show up at 9 a.m., but again the instructor doesn’t make an appearance until 10 a.m. with various excuses. You feel irritated and ask whether Wednesday’s class will start at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., and they indicate the earlier time. How long are you going to listen to that instructor, or are you going to judge them by their actions instead of their words?
The secret to getting your kids to listen: Examine what’s going on.
If your four-year-old isn’t listening to you at all, then the chances are you’ve trained them not to listen by being inconsistent in exactly the same way. Many children’s listening skills lie somewhere in the middle, with the consistency dial needing a minor tune-up on the part of mom, dad, or the caregiver.
Now don’t think I don’t understand how difficult being consistent is. One moment you are feeling like you can conquer the world, so you put up with the whining when they want a chocolate bar before dinner without giving in. The next, you pass them the chips just to get them to be quiet as each whine seems to pierce your head like a ballistic missile.
One moment, you’re a tower of strength, calmly pointing the way to your expectations, and they put the toys away. The next, the kids are jumping on the sofa, screaming “no,” and using your defeated body slumped in the chair as a route for their toy cars.
Consistency is the most difficult to pull off but it’s also the most important.
But just as it’s difficult to be consistent at the best of times and even harder when you’re sick, tired, or under the weather, doing so is an integral part of being a good leader. Does it have to be 100% all the time? No, but there’s a line, and when you cross it suddenly, the children know that no matter what they do, all you’ll issue are platitudes, threats, or entreatments. Essentially, they know that you’ll never back up what you say with action, and that’s a problem.
If your children are consistently not listening to you, then you’ve crossed that line, but don’t panic; there is a way back. That route is a tough one for all concerned, but it is doable, and it’s very much worth doing because it determines so much down the road and can make the difference between an easy and a hard parenting journey.
A behaviour intervention can certainly help and make it easier if the listening issue has become chronic, but the secret to getting your kids to listen is to take heart and keep trying. Make your words count, and keep in mind that there’s no telling them; there’s only showing them, calmly and consistently, over and over again.
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