My child doesn’t listen to me. I repeat myself too often. I sometimes don’t go out because I fear the embarrassment of dealing with an unruly child in public.
If these are your thoughts. You aren’t alone. There is a choir of parents you don’t see struggling with this same issue – no matter how perfect their children seem to behave on social media.
Getting children to listen and obey is a skill that is developed and requires consistent maintenance.
In this post, you are going to learn some tools to improve your child’s listening skills. As you read look for the one thing every point has in common. I’ll let you in on the secret at the end.
Photo via Unsplash by Kelli McClintock
FULL STOP: Although my educational background includes a degree in psychology and a master’s in family life and youth development, I do not proclaim to be a parenting expert. I do not provide medical or mental health advice. Nope. I’m a mom trying to raise a responsible kid who listens. I’m sharing what I’ve learned hoping that it serves you well. Please see my disclaimer policy for more information.
Let’s get into this.
How To Get Kids To Listen
1. Rule out medical issues
Sometimes, the reasons kids don’t listen is related to a medical or psychological issue that has not been addressed. If this is a possibility, take your concerns seriously and seek the assistance of an appropriate care provider.
2. Focus on leadership – not dominance
As parents, we have a choice in how we parent. There are classically defined parenting styles that may help you understand your own parenting philosophies but without all the big words and fancy language, it mostly comes down to leadership versus dominance. Do you want to be a respected leader or a dominant dictator?
Dictators may get their desired end results in some situations but it is often at too high a cost, including:
- low-quality parent to child relationships
- loss of trust
- children with low self-esteem
- A need to constantly increase punishments
Leaders find a way to get their desired results without these detrimental costs.
Your interest in this post leads me to believe you want to be a respected leader in your home. So. Think about the leaders you respect.
- What characteristics and personality traits do they share? (Can you acquire or refine these in yourself?)
- How did they motivate you to perform well? (Did you flourish with internal or external motivators?)
- How did they handle mistakes and reprimands? (Was physical punishment, embarrassment, or yelling employed to teach you a lesson?)
- Did they ever try to make you feel inadequate? (Would this effort to prove you unworthy have improved your relationship?)
- Did they yell at you in front of your peers?
These are questions to consider because you are the leader of your children. You want them to trust you to lead and believe that you care more about them than just blind obedience. Right?
3. Get your child’s full attention before you speak
If you live in the Western world, it is likely that your child is blessed and cursed with tons of distractions. No matter how we try, we cannot compete. Therefore, skip the urge to yell across the room, playground, or over a device – especially if Paw Patrol or Blaze and The Monster Machines is the program of choice.
Instead, go to your child, establish eye contact, and if appropriate consider getting on their level physically – before you make your request.
The action of making eye contact with your child is necessary because the neurons in our brains are sensitive to facial expressions, it shows confidence, it relays that your request is important and not an afterthought, and it’s a way to give and get respect (source).
4. Use simple and direct communication
Once you have your child’s full attention, use simple language, and make direct commands. What do I mean?
As a parent learning along with you, I am guilty of making long Oscar-worthy statements without ever making a direct request.
Example: We just had a great time outside playing at the park. I notice you left a mess with all your stuff near the door and you didn’t do any of the things you were suppose to do when you came inside.
Can you detect the numerous errors in this example?
- It’s unnecessarily long and rambling. I probably lost my daughter’s attention at the end of the first sentence because I start with a synopsis of our time instead of getting to the point.
- I am asking my toddler to draw on her memory of past expectations. At a young age (and old), repetition is necessary for establishing new habits.
- I never make a direct request. Nope. There is just a statement after statement.
The Edit: Darling, pick up your shoes and coat and put them in the closet right now. Then, go wash your hands for snack time.
Big difference, right?!
- The request is short and simple.
- The communication is direct and establishes when I expect her to take action (right now).
- There is no ambiguity in my request.
This simple change in how I addressed my daughter was a huge leap in improving my own communication skills. It helped with making requests to my husband too. 😉
I am getting in the habit of telling my child what actions to take and not expecting her (at this young age) to know.
Are you making some of the same errors?
5. Establish and adhere to clearly defined principles and rules
There is a girl code (don’t date your friend’s ex), a bro code (don’t date your brother’s best friend), and your family has a code too. You may have never formally defined it but you can now.
- What principles and rules are standard in your home? Are you able to articulate them clearly?
- Children are not allowed to hit each other in mean spirit.
- Children are expected to remove plates from the table after eating.
- We practice our faith.
- We give according to our means to those in need.
Having these points clearly defined allows parents and guardians to be aligned with each other and consistent with expectations for each family member. Kids are smart, if they sense one parent or guardian has a more lenient set of rules and principles, they will use that to their benefit.
Note: Rules may change as the child ages and it is necessary to communicate this change effectively. Don’t assume that they know about new expectations without communication and confirmation.
6. Commit and follow-through consistently
Being consistent may be the most difficult task on this list. Which means it is one of the most important.
Consistency is constantly adhering to the same principles… -Dictionary.com
Once principles and rules are established and agreed upon, it time to follow through – all the time.
When you make a request of your child, expect your child to follow through and follow through on your discipline, not doing so is teaching your child that what you say can be ignored sometimes.
- You tell your child to give you their toy or device, for an undesirable action, and the child doesn’t listen and you do nothing.
- You tell your child that you all are going home if he/she throws one more rock and he/she throws another rock.
I find this step is challenging because it creates several inconveniences for us parents. What do I mean?
You may have only been at the park for ten minutes and you make the threat of going home for throwing rocks, actually taking that action is inconvenient; however, if that is your discipline of choice, it is essential that you follow-through each time. Otherwise, your words lose power and children think of them as empty (unreal) threats.
I once told my child I was going to throw her tablet away. This was a lie. In hindsight, I realize I could have just taken it away (like I did) and placed it somewhere until her behavior improved. I want better behavior not corroded trust. Have you done something like this?
7. Avoid bribery
Here is my oversimplified understanding of the problem with the use of bribery on young children.
Bribery is an offer typically made under pressure. According to Erin Schlicher of empoweringparents.com, bribery is problematic because it is a form of negotiating that puts the child in a power position and doesn’t teach desirable behavior.
I caught myself beginning to do this doing this with my toddler and now with awareness I have been intentional about not continuing this behavior. Have you caught yourself doing this too?
8. Praise and thank kids
Are you acknowledging undesirable behavior and not giving adequate attention to desirable behavior? If so, consider the implications on that and how you would feel if someone did the same to you.
Children are little people with emotions that they aren’t always able to express easily. Since we already have the ability to express our emotions and gratitude for kids who are still learning, we should. We can use praise, express gratitude, and provide positive reinforcement when they are listening or making improvements.
Praise and discipline are both necessary parts of parenting well. Praise your little one but not too much.
9. Establish routines
A tool that helps me avoid bribery is routines. Routines establish clear expectations of what will happen throughout our day and the repetition supports turning desirable actions into habits without any expectation of a bribe or reward. Boom.
We wake up, open the blinds, make the bed, eat breakfast, and brush the teeth. It’s a routine and there are no incentives just an understanding that this is the process for our family.
Note: Routines do not need to be strict hour by hour schedules. We have a morning routine and a night routine and because I am currently homeschooling, I have dedicated time for lessons. The time in between is flexible.
10. Decide responses ahead of time
Even with the best of tools and the best of intentions, sometimes children don’t listen. Instead of being surprised by this, decide how you will respond to your child’s behavior ahead of time.
Yep. You can decide how you want to respond when (not if) your kid doesn’t listen.
How does this help you?
No longer are you the flustered and overwhelmed mama caught off guard. Nope, you’ve thought about the real likelihood that your child will act in a way that you disapprove of, and with a bit of thought and planning, you now know exactly how you plan to respond.
This has helped my husband and I get on the same page about discipline before we need to implement discipline. We’re still learning but I’m proud to be on the same page.
Have you tried thinking about discipline and rewards ahead of time?
11. Give yourself grace
Finally, no matter how many tips you read or processes you execute, you may find yourself in tears in your closet wondering why no one told you that parenting can suck sometimes. I get it. That’s why I want to leave you with this last point – remember to give yourself grace.
Parenting is hard sometimes but you can do hard. Think about all that you have overcome already. You are doing better than you know and love will keep you from giving up.
Be intentional about giving yourself grace and offer grace to other moms you may see struggling with the same issues. We are in this thing together.
Did you notice what every point has in common?
If you noticed that this list is all about the actions you can take as the parent to become a better guide for your child, you deserve a reward!
When I first approached this topic, I incorrectly believed my child’s behavior was the main problem. When I began implementing these techniques – changing my own behavior, and got positive results, I was astonished. My confidence has improved and I’m working on creating a relationship of love and respect with my little one that involves more understanding and less friction.
Am I perfect in my implementation of everything on this list all the time? Absolutely not! But my motto around here is that you don’t need to be a perfect mom to be great. Effort and improvement is the goal. Good luck mama!