Kids not listening? This may help!
How can I get my kids to listen??
This is one of the most common questions I get from parents, and I totally get it. As parents we are inundated with society’s expectations for our kids’ behavior and respect and obedience are some of those expectations. So when parents say they just want their kids to listen, what they are really saying is that they want their kids to obey them, or at the very least follow directions. But is this what we really want for our kids?
Why Won’t My Kids Listen??
In this post I want to help you shift your mindset just a little bit on this topic and try on a new way of viewing “disobedience”. Not listening, not following directions, and not complying are all developmentally normal responses for children in situations where they are not feeling connected to the caregiver making the request and when their priority for that moment is different than the caregivers. In short, kids generally aren’t disobedient because they are “bad” kids, they are disobedient because they are human. They don’t want to be told what to do without any consideration for their feelings or their plans, and honestly, that is pretty reasonable. You’ve likely had a boss who barked orders, and while you did as you were told, you probably weren’t happy about it. The difference is, as an adult, you have the brain development, executive functioning, and self-regulation skills to stop yourself from outright defying your boss. Your 4-year-old simply doesn’t have those skills yet. You’ve likely also had a boss that you felt took an interest in you, cared about your growth in your job, and encouraged you to perform well. Doing what was asked was likely much easier for this boss, right? Kids are the same!
Think about the last time you said, “You’re not listening!” or “Please put on your listening ears!” to one of your kids. What were you doing? Likely attempting to transition to a new activity, trying to get the house cleaned up, or possibly to get siblings to stop bickering. In this situation, what was the thing you were doing immediately prior to asking them to do something? These two things matter because the two major reasons kids don’t immediately comply with our requests is because 1.) their agenda is different than ours, and 2.) they don’t feel connected to us. Put in this context, it's a little bit easier to see why a young child might refuse to do as we ask.
Get your Kids to Listen in 3 Easy Steps!
1.) Connect first.
- Get down on their level and connect with them. Ask them what they are working on, compliment their concentration or dedication, or simply “be” with them for a moment.
- If you are setting a limit in a more pressing situation, like a sibling quarrel or destructive play, the connection can come while gently and calmly stopping the action.
“I see you’re angry with your brother, I won’t let you hit him.”
“I see you’re throwing the blocks. That makes an exciting loud noise! Blocks aren’t for throwing, let’s find a ball.”
2.) Give them a heads up.
- A five-minute warning before a necessary transition can work wonders on your child’s likelihood of doing what was asked, especially if you have already connected with them and acknowledged that what they’re currently doing has value.
“Wow, look at how carefully you have stacked these blocks. I can tell you’ve really been working hard! In a few minutes it will be time to pick them up, would you like my help?”
“I see you’ve been drawing this whole time I was packing your lunch, can you show me what you’ve been working on? Thank you for sharing that with me! It’s almost time for school so in a few minutes you’ll need to get your shoes and socks on.”
3.) Let go of the idea of obedience and instead embrace the idea of cooperation.
- If you approach these moments as an opportunity to connect with your child, to work together toward one goal, and to encourage building the ability to balance their own wants and plans with those of others (a really important life skill!), I think you’ll find that they go a bit smoother.
And really, do you want obedient kids who follow directions without thought or do you want a child who WANTS to cooperate in order to build relationships and do what’s right?
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