You’ve asked your child to brush their teeth, or turn off the TV, three times now. Each time they have ignored you and carried on with what they are doing.
Maybe they didn’t hear you the first time, or they were distracted. So, you try again. You try again, five more times, and still nothing. What now?
You don’t want to shout, but how else can you get them to listen?
It can be incredibly frustrating when your children don’t listen to you.
If you’re feeling worn down by it all, you’re not alone. The internet is full of cries from desperate parents and caregivers, all asking how they can get their children to listen to them.
While it’s easy to feel defeated, there are some steps you can take to help improve your child’s listening. Below, we’ve listed 6 different tips that will help you understand how to talk so your kids will listen.
Understanding Why Kids Don’t Listen
Before anything else, it’s important to understand why children sometimes don’t listen.
There are a variety of reasons that might explain why some children don’t listen to adults.
Perhaps the most obvious of these reasons is that they simply don’t hear you. Sometimes, when children are engrossed in a particularly interesting or entertaining activity, they may be too preoccupied to hear you, or register what you are saying.
Similarly, if they are doing an activity they enjoy, they may not listen to you not because they are deliberately trying to be defiant, but because they have conflicting desires. They might wish to continue doing the thing they are enjoying, and what you’re asking threatens to interrupt this. This dilemma can be difficult for children to articulate, which is why, often, they may choose to simply ignore you.
Even when they are being deliberately defiant, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Children are hardwired to be oppositional. When your child chooses not to listen to you, they are asserting their will – which is as healthy and natural as it is frustrating. They are learning to exercise their individuality.
More complex reasons for children not listening could also include neurological disorders like ADHD or Autism, or past experiences and trauma that shape the way they respond to authority, like attachment issues. Factors like these may influence children’s ability to understand language and respond to directions and may require professional guidance.
Regardless of the reason, it’s important to understand that children don’t necessarily mean to be disrespectful. Developing listening skills takes time, and some children are simply not as adept at listening as others.
Don’t Speak Before You Have Their Attention
If holding your child’s attention is something you’re struggling with, focus on connecting before you start asking them to do something.
We know how busy life can be: it’s easier to call across the room or ask your child in passing. However, sometimes, these methods aren’t the most effective at getting through.
Rather, focus on making an active connection with your child before asking them to do something. Try approaching them, using their name, and getting down on their level.
Establish a connection with them by engaging with what they are doing. This might mean commenting on the TV show they are watching or asking questions about the game they are playing.
Wait until you have their eye contact, and then begin talking. By waiting to establish a connection before talking, you increase the likelihood that your child will be receptive to what you are saying.
Keep What You’re Saying Concise
When it comes to talking to children, staying brief and concise will go a long way in helping your child to listen. Throughout their development, children have varying attention spans – ranging between 4-6 minutes for toddlers, and 28-42 minutes for teenagers.
Asking too much of your child at once can risk overwhelming them or diluting your message, making it difficult for them to order their thoughts and process your instructions.
Keeping instructions clear and simple will not only save you some energy, but also help to prevent your child from zoning out. Try simplifying the language you use with your children, such as saying ‘hat’ when asking your child to put a hat on, or ‘teeth’ when it’s time for them to brush their teeth.
Empower Them with Choice
Like mentioned previously, sometimes children choose not to listen because of their conflicting desires or need to exert their own will.
One way to combat this is giving your child some choice in how they conduct themselves. This might mean rephrasing the way you ask things of your child.
For example, you might be tempted to tell your child that if they don’t tidy their room now, they won’t be able to watch any more TV. However, when threatened with a consequence for not following instructions – such as no more TV – children tend to double down on their stubbornness.
Instead, try giving your child a choice. They can either clean their room now, and continue watching TV after, or they can turn off the TV altogether. They can put on the blue jumper, or the yellow jumper – which would they prefer? Choices like these are far more likely to encourage cooperation in your child, rather than defiance.
Similarly, giving children time-based choices simultaneously respects their need to exert their individual will, all while achieving an outcome that is favourable for you. Ask your child if they would like to have a bath now, or in five minutes time. Giving children some choice in these decisions will help them in developing a sense of control and accountability for their actions.
Empower Them with Information
Along with giving them choice, giving child an explanation for why they need to follow your instruction can also help to encourage their cooperation.
Instead of simply telling your child they need to brush their teeth, explain to them why teeth-brushing is important – it stops their teeth from rotting, and their breath from stinking. Turning instructions into moments for education will aid your child in understanding the importance of what you’re asking, and the reason for asking it.
Other examples might include explaining to your child that food spoils if it is not put away, or that toilets that are not flushed get smelly, or that not tidying their toys away in the right place means they might not be able to find them the next time they want to play with them.
Keep Your Cool
As hard as it can seem sometimes, remaining calm when your child isn’t listening to you is paramount. The way you react to your child disobeying or ignoring you will influence the way they behave.
If you raise your voice at your child, or indicate your frustration with them, you encourage a fight or flight response within your child that may worsen their behaviour.
Research shows that expressions of anger, such as shouting, scare children and make them feel insecure. Raising your voice at your child is also counterproductive, in that it makes them more verbally and physically aggressive.
That’s why maintaining a level of calm when interacting with your child is important. Calm tones help children feel accepted and cherished regardless of their behaviour – something that can be especially important for foster children.
Remaining calm will likely also lead to a better outcome, providing an opportunity for you to discuss with your child why they might not feel like listening to you, and how you can both work together to avoid these situations in the future.
Try Therapeutic Parenting Techniques
At Compass, we encourage our foster carers to take a therapeutic approach to their parenting.
Therapeutic parenting focuses on creating highly-nurturing, structure-based relationships between caregivers and their children, making it especially effective for children in foster care.
However, the principles and practices of therapeutic parenting are also useful for caregivers struggling with children who are displaying challenging behaviour – such as not listening.
In these situations, the therapeutic parenting P.A.C.E. (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity & Empathy) approach may be useful in helping to strengthen communication and understanding between caregivers and their children.
You can find out more about the P.A.C.E approach here.
While there is no definitive way to get your child to listen to you, these tips are sure to improve your child’s receptiveness and openness to cooperation.
If you think you could have a positive impact on the life of a vulnerable young person, get in touch with us to find out more about fostering.