When we first become parents, we imagine that our children will grow into little darlings who always listen and never throw temper tantrums. But by the time our babies are a year old, we discover that children have minds of their own...and they don’t always agree with us.
One of the most common complaints that parents have is that they have to repeat themselves over and over again before their children will listen. Often, it is brushed off as a mainstay of being a parent. But it doesn’t have to be!
There is a secret to getting your children to listen the first time you ask them to do something. It has much less to do with your child, and much more to do with the way you ask them to comply. Nagging and yelling will get you nowhere. In fact, children tend to tune those out the same way that we tune out an annoying fly buzzing around the kitchen.
Making your requests clearly and calmly, and letting your child know the reason behind your request is the most effective way to getting your child to listen. Delivering consequences to children who do not listen teaches them that behavior is a choice, and that choosing to listen to parents is preferable to facing the consequence of not listening.
Let’s say that your child took some books outside to read in the morning, but they left them there when they came inside. How can you get your child to go outside and pick up their books the first time you ask? Take a look at these easy steps below.
1. Make eye contact to make sure your child is paying attention. Have you ever gotten so involved in a book or movie that you didn’t hear the dryer buzz or the over timer beep? Children get very involved in their activities, too. Making eye contact is a sure way to know that they hear you. Get your child’s attention by touching them gently, then get down on their level and make eye contact when you begin speaking.
2. Make your request calmly. Avoid raising your voice as children often tune out when yelling happens frequently. While holding eye contact, ask your child to perform the action you want them to do. “Please go outside and bring in the books that you left there this morning.” Often, the calm tone and eye contact is all it takes to spur on your child to obeying.
3. If your child doesn’t obey, repeat yourself and give your reason for the action. Giving a reason behind your request shows kids that you have a purpose in asking for them to take action, other than wanting to inconvenience them. “Please go outside and bring in the books that you left there this morning. It is going to rain and your books will be ruined if they get wet.” Please keep in mind that “because I said so” isn’t a valid reason. Using that shows children that you haven’t thought things through, which actually makes them more likely to disobey.
4. If your child continues to disobey, repeat #3 and warn them of the consequences. When a child is warned about the consequences of an action (or non-action), choosing to listen or not becomes a behavior choice that the child must make. By listening and complying with your request, they are choosing good behavior, but by continuing to not listen, they are choosing bad behavior. Warning a child of consequences allows them to clearly understand what their choice will bring to them.
5. When determining consequences, it is always better if the consequences happen naturally as a result of their behavior. In our example of the books left outside, the rain ruining the books is a natural consequence that will happen if the child doesn’t bring them in. The third (and final) request for action would look something like this: “Please go outside and bring in the books that you left there this morning. It is going to rain and your books will be ruined if they get wet. If they get ruined, they will go into the trash and you won’t have them anymore.” The exception to allowing a natural consequence to happen is if endangers someone. For example, if a child refuses to put on boots before going outside in the snow, you cannot allow the natural consequence of them getting frostbite because of going outside in bare feet. In that case, or in the case of no natural consequence, a consequence must be assigned to them.
6. If there is no natural consequence, it is up to you to assign a consequence to the child’s action. If a child is spitting on the floor or unbuckling their car seat, you have to choose a consequence that will happen if your child doesn’t respond to your request. The important thing about deciding a consequence is your ability to follow through with it. If a child is unbuckling their car seat and a parent tells them, “If you unbuckle that car seat one more time, you’re never going anywhere again,” it will be impossible to follow through, since your child will eventually have to ride the car again. This teaches the child that there is a good chance the next consequence you come up with won’t happen either. A better consequence would be: “If you unbuckle your car seat, you won’t be safe. If you’re not safe in the car, we won’t be able to go to the fun party at the library today.”
7. Follow through with the consequence! This is the most important part of getting your kids to listen! It is also where most parents fail. If you don’t follow through with the consequence you’ve given your child, they will perceive your consequences as threats, not imminent actions. Remember, the goal of consequences is to teach. By giving a consequence when your child doesn’t listen, you are teaching your child that your requests are important and listening to you is much easier than dealing with the consequence.
Be patient. If your child is used to disobeying and ignoring you, it will take a few rounds of consequences before they are ready to listen to you the first time. If you are consistent and follow through with consequences every time, you’ll eventually discover your child is listening and obeying the very first time you ask them to.
For more great articles that help you navigate the fun-but-crazy world of parenting, visit NoMeLoMe.com. While you’re there, get a FREE children’s ebook by entering your email address on the home page!