This is a complaint we, at ParentingSuccess hear often – and the frustration is real. And as a mother myself – I cannot claim to have children who listen 100% of the time. We get tired of shouting out the same commands 60 times an hour (because that’s the scarily high number of times we have been found to give instructions on an hourly basis). And the tone in our household soon becomes depressing when mum and dad feel they have to constantly nag, remind and tell off. So why aren’t kids listening? Are they just plain rude or short of hearing?
The short answer is no.
Here are 3 common reasons why your child is not responding to your requests when you want them to:
1. Kids are excellent at being in the NOW!
We could actually learn a lot about presence from our children. Unlike us, our children primarily live in the NOW – with little thought to the future and the past – which means they experience the fullness of EACH moment. This means that their joy, sadness, disappointment and all other emotions are felt very intensely. And yes, it also means that they get completely absorbed in whatever task they are engaged in. Hence the reason it can feel difficult to get their attention. They simply might not have heard us.
2. Our instructions are not always clear enough – or we tell them only what NOT to do!
When we use long sentences and lengthy explanations for why they need to do what we would like them to do – kids switch off! They cannot take it all in. This also applies to when we give the same command over and over again; – it does not make it doubly effective.
Commands that only state what we don’t want them to do such as ‘Stop running’ / ‘Don’t hit’ / ‘No yelling’ – while clear to us – do not offer the child with a specific alternative to what we would like them to do instead. So besides creating a better tone around the house – when we say ‘ Walk ‘ / ’Kind hands/Hands to yourself’ / ‘Use your indoor voice’ / we are more likely to get through.
3. You are not listening when they talk!
This is different to how most of us were raised. The vast majority of us listen to answer, fix or offer advice – not with the intention to understand. But we do well to think of ourselves as role models. So when we generously enter into our child’s world at some point in the day and take interest in what is on their mind with an open mind – even if we do not always agree – we encourage them to offer us the same respect.
So knowing that this is how children work – going forward you could try the following:
1. Prepare your child; When they are deeply engrossed in something – get their attention for a second and remind them that in x minutes -this is what you would like them to do.
2. Have clear and agreed rules or routines around the things you most often end up fighting with your children about (screen time, getting out the door in the morning etc.)
3. Use visual prompts to remind your child the agreed routine (e.g. 4 simple steps to a smooth morning routine – depicted in picture form). These can easily be downloaded off your computer and laminated and will support whatever your agreed routine is. Relying less on your voice will make a big difference.
4. Show up – physical presence is harder to ignore; Besides reducing the level of shouting in the house – showing up in person sends a powerful signal to your child that you mean it.
5. Have positive expectations; when we communicate using personal language and in an authentic and respectful tone – we are naturally effective.
6. Adjust your expectations: Children will not learn to listen once and for all every time you ask them to. And nor do we. So it is a good idea not to shame and blame if we find we have to say things more than once.
Remember this: Children do want to co operate and do not like to disappoint us. It is therefore worth adopting a curious mindset if your child does not respond after having asked them to do something more than 2 times. Over time our voice becomes our children’s inner voice – so we do well to think about what we want that to sound like.