One of the most common questions I hear from parents is: How can I get my kid to listen to me? Kids have a lot on their minds, from the math test to the football tryouts to the newest video game. Parents can be dismally low on their list. Not to mention that when the brain is rewiring at age six, and again at age twelve, they can feel overwhelmed by outside stimuli and tune you out. Even toddlers are very busy exploring and tearing the house apart! Kids have other things to think about. They also have different priorities.
The parents who ask me how to get their child to listen aren’t really talking about listening. They’re talking about how to get their child to take in what they say and take action! Here’s how.
- 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. Instead, move in close. Get down on your child’s level and touch him/her lightly. Observe what your kiddo is doing and connect by making a comment about it. When we feel connected to another person, we’re more open to their influence, so you’re making it easy for your child to listen to you. Wait until your kiddo looks up. Make eye contact and then start talking.
- Don’t repeat yourself. If you’ve asked once and received no response, don’t just repeat yourself. You don’t have your child’s attention. Go back to Step One, above.
- 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.
- Look at things from your child’s point of view. If you were busy with something you liked doing and your partner ordered you to stop doing it and do something else that was not a priority to you, how would you feel? Might you tune out your partner? Your child doesn’t have to share your priorities, he/she just has to accommodate your needs. You don’t have to share your child’s priorities, but it will help immensely if you can acknowledge how much your kiddo wants to keep doing whatever he/she is doing. “I know it’s hard to stop playing, Honey. Now I need you to…..”
- Engage cooperation. No one wants to listen to someone who’s giving orders; in fact, it often stimulates resistance. Think about how you feel when someone orders you around. Instead, keep your tone warm. When possible, give choices.
- Stay calm. When we get upset, kids feel unsafe and go into fight or flight. In their effort to defend themselves or to fight back, they become LESS effective at listening, and lose sight of our message.
- 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 take the roll of drill sergeant. 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.
- If you stare at your screen while your child tells you about his day, you are role modeling how communication is handled in your family. If you really want your child to listen to you, stop what you’re doing and listen. It only takes a few minutes.
Open and comfortable communication with your kids develops confidence, self-esteem, good relationships with others, cooperation and warm relationships with you. Take the time and effort to foster your relationship and communication skills by talking with your kids as much as you can. Remember that talking with kids is a two way street. Talk with them and then hear what they have to say. Listening is just as important as talking.