When kids don’t listen it can be such a source of frustration for everyone. In fact, getting kids to listen and problems with kids doing what’s asked of them is one of the most common complaints from parents, teachers, and caregivers. It’s easy to understand why.
How often does this scenario play out in your household? You ask your child to clean up their art supplies because they’ve just finished working on a project and there’s a trail of markers, paper scraps, and paints everywhere. Or maybe it’s your child’s turn to clear the table from dinner and load the dishwasher and even though you’ve asked them two or three times, it remains undone. What to do? As a parent you may jump to conclusions and assume they heard your request but chose to ignore you. You wonder, why is it so hard for them to just do what I ask, when I ask them to do it? You may take it personally when they don’t do what you’ve asked them to do – you can feel disrespected. After all, you’ve talked to them about this issue before. Over time, tensions build, tempers flare, and an exasperating cycle of power struggles ensue with a side of yelling.
Here’s the thing though, if the goal is getting your kids to listen, it’s more than simply getting them to do what you ask. What we’re really talking about is improving overall communication. Imagine how different your interactions with your kids would be if everyone felt heard, if there was mutual respect and cooperation? Think this is a tall order? Here are some tips and strategies to ensure better listening and improved communication.
Strategies for Better Listening: Young Children
• Adjust Your Expectations: Make sure your requests are age appropriate and in line with your child’s abilities; one request at a time.
• Do You Have Their Attention? Before you start talking to them or making requests, make sure you’re connected and they’re giving you their full attention. Try the following:
- Enter the room where your child is and say their name. If they’re not looking at you, you can say, “let me see your eyes” or “eyes on me”. (Remember that tone matters. A firm but calm tone, is more productive than an angry, sarcastic, or passive one.)
- Avoid Yelling: Raised voices automatically puts kids of any age on the defensive. It creates anxiety, and only increases the chances that they’ll tune us out.
- Make sure you’re on their eye level.
- If your child is engrossed in an activity, kneel down and gently touch their shoulder while speaking to them.
• Set and Keep Limits Early On: Set Clear Expectations. State exactly what you want done. “I want you to put all of your blocks in these bins.” If they’re sorting something, demonstrate, “like this.” Express confidence in their ability to do the task(s).
• Be Flexible About “How” Tasks Get Done – Especially With Younger Children. Be open to creativity! Sometimes parents can get hung up on the ‘right way’ to do things. Instead, pick your battles. Sometimes close enough is okay.
• Acknowledge Their Feelings. Chances are your child is not going to be super excited about doing their chores. They’d probably rather be playing – after all, they’re kids and their priorities are not our priorities. So acknowledge their feelings in the moment, like, “ugh, I know it’s no fun to clean up our toys when we’re done playing. You’re probably ready to go do something else instead! So, how can you make it more fun?”
• Have Them Repeat The Request Back To You: this is a great tip for all age groups and a way to ensure that they’ve understood what you’ve said.
• Invite Cooperation: Instead of issuing commands, try asking: “what’s still left to do before going to bed?” or “what do you need to do before you’re able to watch your show” or “what’s left to do before leaving the house?” If you are using a list, you might say, “let’s look at this list to see what we still have to do.”
Strategies for Better Listening: Teens
Many of the strategies for young children can be adapted and used for older children and teens.
• Be sure you have their full attention. Wait until they’re not in the middle of a task. Think about establishing a ‘phones down, eyes on me’ rule while talking to your child – and make sure you’re giving them your full attention as well when they approach you about something. Connection and respect need to go both ways.
• Come up with agreed upon check in time to go over what’s happening that day or that week.
• Post chore lists and guidelines in an easy to see, agreed upon location. This is a concrete way of setting your expectations, and gives the teen the opportunity to demonstrate responsibility, more independently.
• When assigning tasks, be sure to give your teen deadlines. This allows them some choice and flexibility, but there’s also a clear expectation around when it should be done. It’s also a good idea to be clear about consequences if tasks are uncompleted.
• Create Consistent Routines: this is something you can start doing when your child is younger and adjust as they get older. It’s never too late to start creating new routines and habits!
• Model Active Listening: Particularly with teenagers, they are paying attention to what you say, what you do, and what you are asking from them. Model active listening. Though their actions may suggest otherwise, they’re watching and they’re listening. Even though it’s challenging, it’s important to give them your full attention when they want to talk. It may be tempting to interrupt them in order to prove your point, but maintain a consistent calm presence and wait until they’re finished to respond.
Are your kids tuning you out? Could your family use some guidance on how to better listen and communicate with one another? Reach out to us at Milestones Counseling at 443-574-4295. We would love to connect you with a therapist that is the right fit for you!