Are you tired of asking your kids 1,000 times to do something? Feeling frustrated that even when they do seem to “hear” you, they forget to follow through?
Demanding, nagging and yelling will not get your kids to listen. In fact, if your child seems to listen “only when you yell,” chances are that they are obeying out of fear, rather than an internal drive to listen and follow directions.
If you want your kids to listen without yelling or nagging, you need to start with how you communicate your requests to them.
Instead of trying to force your child to listen, focus on yourself first. Change the way you make your requests, and then watch as your child changes their behavior.
Use these nine tips to get started:
1. Connect: Kids who feel a strong connection to their parents have a stronger desire to respond to their requests. If your child isn’t listening, focus on building the relationship first: play together, read, snuggle, laugh.
2. Limit your commands: Pay attention to how many corrections, requests or redirections you give your child during the day. Chances are, they have tuned you out! Focus on the big things so your child knows what’s important.
3. Whisper: If you have a loud voice or tend to yell your requests, change things up by using a softer tone. Your kids may be caught off guard and focus better. For young kids, whispering a request can be a fun game.
4. Eye contact: Instead of yelling a request from across the room, walk over and be present with your child. Make sure you have their attention before you give the request. Politely interrupt their activity, asking for eye contact, if necessary.
5. Repeat Back: Once you’ve given the request, ask your child to paraphrase what you just said. Even better, ask your child what is expected instead of telling them. For example, ask, “What else do you need to do before you get on the bus?”
6. Be respectful: Nothing shuts down communication like negativity, blaming and finger-pointing. Instead of, “This is the third time I’ve asked you to take out the trash; you’re so lazy!” try, “The trash needs to be out by 5 pm, please. Thanks for your help!”
7. Make it short: Encourage compliance by making your requests simple. “Shoes!” or “Plates in the sink, please.” Most children have difficulty processing a long list of requests. Focus on one or two at a time.
8. Give warnings: No one likes to be interrupted or surprised by a request. Give your child time to obey by giving advanced notice, when possible. Use a timer or something concrete (“at the next commercial”) for small kids.
9. Solve the bigger problem: There may be an underlying reason that your child is not listening. Observe your child and notice when they seem to struggle and when they follow through well. Common underlying problems and some suggestions are:
- Process information slowly — speak slowly with long breaks for thinking.
- Struggle with transitions — give warnings and allow for time between activities.
- Difficulty processing too many things at once — give one command at a time.
- Visual learner rather than auditory — use charts, lists, timers and pictures.
- Unsure what you expect — explain or demonstrate the behavior you’d like to see.
- Unable to complete the task — teach the skill and practice in advance.
Your child can learn to listen! But, it starts with you. Observe yourself over the next few days. What patterns and habits have you fallen into related to how you talk with your kids? This week, find one thing you’d like to change and pick something from this list to try instead.
(Note: Many parents tell me that they wonder about their child’s hearing. If you’re concerned, please talk to your doctor. In the meantime, try this test: while your child is in the room, whisper something about their most desirable activity and see if they respond, for example: “Who want’s to go get ice cream!” Most of the time, their hearing is suddenly just fine!)
Nicole Schwarz is a mom to 3 young girls, a Parent Coach with a License in Marriage and Family Therapy, and author of Positive Parenting for Imperfect Families. Find positive parenting tips and learn more about Parent Coaching on her blog, Imperfect Families.