It is so frustrating when our children don’t listen to us. It can lead to yelling, ineffective time-outs, and an unhappy parent and child. But it’s important to remember that when your child doesn’t listen, it’s not because they’re a bad child, they’re just a child who learning. So how do you teach someone to listen, especially when they’re independent, and strong-willed? Well, keep reading because I’ve got all the best tips for you.
-Use Friendly Eye Contact And A Loving Touch: Getting on their level and making eye contact with them, let’s you know you have their attention. When you yell from across the room, it’s easy for them to tune you out, but when you’re physically down on their level, face-to-face with your child, they listen much better. You can also add in a loving touch, like a hand on their shoulder or back, to further connect and engage with your child when speaking to them.
-Give A Directive Not A Question: We often use a question format to tell our child to do something. Example, “Will you please pick up the toy you dropped on the floor?” When we ask it as a question, our children think they have the option to say no, and when they say no, we view it as them being defiant and not listening. But we were the ones who asked it as a question making them think they could say no. Instead, only ask it as a question, if “no” really is an acceptable answer. If “no” is not an acceptable answer, give it as a directive. Example, “Pick up the toy you dropped on the floor please.” And always be sure to say it in a calm, kind tone.
-Ask A Question Instead Of Giving A Directive: I know this is opposite advice of the previous tip, but when possible, engage your child’s critical thinking skills by asking a question to promote cooperation. For example, instead of “Put your shoes away”. you could say, “Where do you shoes belong?” When we ask questions instead of giving directives, our children will be less resistant because they will feel powerful, they will feel valued, they will feel like they belong, and they will feel strong. Asking questions that engage their brain, also help our children develop good judgement skills, learn about consequences, accountability, taking initiative, problem solving, and cooperation skills.
-Tell Your Child What You Want Them To Do, Not What You Don’t Want Them To Do: Example, if your child struggles with hitting, say “hands off” instead of “don’t hit”. It’s such a simple change of wording but makes a huge difference! When you say “don’t hit”, your child might only hear is “hit” so they hit. It also requires them to process more information: not only do they have to process what you told them, “don’t hit”, but they also have to process what they’re supposed to do instead. That can be asking a lot of a child, especially if your child is younger. But when you say “hands off” they know the behavior they’re expected to do.
-Offer Choices: Give your child some power and control over their life by offering them choices, choices that you’re ok with. Example; “It’s bedtime. Would you like to walk into your room by yourself or would you like me to carry you in?” Or “It’s time to do chores. Would you like to fold laundry or sweep the floor?” When children feel like they have some sort of say in their life, they are much more likely to cooperate. And it’s also great practice for all the choices they’ll have to make when they’re adults.
-Let Them Know The Consequences: Clearly state the logical consequence that will follow if they choose not to listen. Example: “You need to take the marker out of your mouth. If you choose to put that marker in your mouth, then you will be all done coloring.” Another example: If your child tries to run off when in a parking lot, say something like “Running in a parking lot is not safe. A car could hit you. It’s my job to keep you safe, so if you choose to try to run, I will carry you.” Notice how I said “if you choose…” Using the word “choose” makes them responsible for their own actions, consequences, and rewards.
-Allow Time To Comply: *This goes for times when your child is not in harms way. Adults rarely comply to a request the second it is given and sometime adults even have to be reminded to do what was asked of them, so why do we expect more from our children than we do from adults? Maybe that drawing your child is coloring is really important to them, and they want to finish it before having to stop to do what you want them to do. Give your toddler time to comply before you get frustrated and angry with them. You can count to three or set a timer to help your child know how much longer they have to finish what they’re doing. If you have older kids, you can give them a deadline for compliance. Example: “You need to clean your room before you can go to your friends house” or “You room needs to be cleaned up by 5pm tonight.”
-Follow Through & Be Consistent: Following through is key! If you don’t follow through with the consequence of your child not listening, they won’t learn from it. And if you’re inconsistent on when you follow through and when you don’t, they will test their limits to see if this is a time when they actually have to listen or not. Follow through and stay consistent, and they will learn to listen.
–Remain Calm. This is sometimes easier said than done, but try to remain calm. Let the consequence be the teacher. If you yell, all they learn is that them not listening to you makes you mad. Example, if your toddler throws a toy and you yell/get mad, all your toddler learns is that it made you mad. But if you stay calm, and let the consequence (taking away the toy) speak for itself, they will learn that toys are for playing with, not throwing. If your child doesn’t listen and chooses to throw the toy, and then throws a fit when you take it away, show empathy for them by saying something like “Bummer! You were having fun playing with that toy. Toys aren’t for throwing, they’re for playing nicely with.”
–Acknowledge And Encourage Them When They Do Listen: The behavior you give attention to is the behavior that is reinforced and the behavior your toddler will continue to do. So give positive attention to your child when they listen. Example: “Thank you for listening to Mommy when I said it was time to put your shoes on! We got out of the house on time with your cooperation!”
These tips will set your child up for success as an adult too because it gives them a lot of practice listening, making choices, and learning about consequences. You can also use these strategies on your teenager or even your spouse 😉