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How Can I Address Things Correctly So My Kids Will Listen?

by Kathy
(Los Angeles, CA)

I have four children. My first daughter is 9, second daughter is 8, then a son who is 5 and another son who is 2. I am drained because I have to constantly repeat myself for things to get done.

What am I doing wrong because whatever I am doing is ineffective. I have to constantly threaten them or yell at them so they listen to me the first time.

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Getting Kids To Listen - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Kathy,

Oh boy, if I had a dollar for every parent that has asked me this question . . . .

And congratulations on wanting to do something different, many parents just yell more!

One of the key things with listening, is it is a learned skill. A lot of what our kids are doing is what they have learned from us. Just stop and think a moment how many times they have been talking to you and you have been busy doing something and just give them a little bit of your attention. Sometimes we even say "not now, I'm busy, go and play" or worse, ..."go watch TV."

Model Good Listening Skills


We have to model to our children how important listening is in communication. If we make it clear it is important when someone is speaking and give them our full attention then they learn to stop and listen. If you can't right at that moment, then say "What you have to say is really important to me, and I want to give you my full attention. Give me five minutes to just finish this, and I will be right with you"

We expect our children to respect us and jump to attention when we ask something. But stop and think - how many times have they called out something and we ignore it or say "just a minute". We are modeling to them that paying attention and responding is not a priority.

Often we are in another room, and we yell instructions to them, and then get mad when they have not complied. When kids are absorbed in a game, or the TV has all their attention, they hear our distant request as background noise, and simply do not register it as important.

So first and foremost, think about how you are teaching them to listen by your example. Good listening is giving your full attention, making eye contact, and letting the person have their say without interrupting. You are giving that person a gift of your energy and attention, and letting them know what they are saying is important to you. Your example is the best way they will learn to stop and value what others say.

Part Two Follows . . .

Getting Kids To Listen - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

When you want them to do something - don't just yell an instruction from the kitchen - make sure you have their attention first so you have engaged them. Make eye contact and then tell them what you require.

That brings me to the next point - we are usually imposing our timetables onto our kids, without taking account of what they are involved in. If someone yelled to you to drop what you were doing and come and sit at the table right now, would you be very happy to comply?

We expect our kids to suddenly put what we want as their top priority - and are not respecting where their energy is. If they are playing an interesting game, or have their nose in a book, they are not really motivated to drop their activity and come and do a chore. If they are in the habit of watching TV, then change the rules - make TV a family time or reward time or chill out time, but not a dominant part of their day. TV may well be part of the problem in that it holds their attention and focus and they do not register anything else that is going on around them. If you find TV is often on when the not listening issues arise, then change how your family watches TV. Don't make it a punishment - ie turning it off because they are not listening to you, but you can make it a reward for finishing a task, or make it a treat to watch a movie together.

Good Communication = Negotiation


Good communication is about negotiation. Playing is learning for children, and we tend to think chores are more important. Sure they have to participate in the house and contribute to running it, but that can be a negotiated activity. If you are wanting them to tidy up and set the table for dinner - then negotiate it ahead of time. If they are involved in an exciting game, then negotiate a time frame when they need to switch focus.

Yes there will be lots of times you do have to repeat yourself - but giving gentle reminders about time is not the same as yelling with increasing frustration to make them do something. If you have negotiated with them when they are going to come and do what you want, then they may also need a five minute warning that time is nearly up - particularly when they are young.

Now when I say negotiation, that is not YOU telling them what they have to do. You talk about your request, and then listen to what they want or need, and together you negotiate a compromise. "I need you to clear up the toys before dinner, what would be a good time to start clearing up?" "How much longer do you need before you will be ready to put your game to one side?". So you are taking their needs into account when you make a request.

Part Three Follows . . .

Getting Kids To Listen - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Your older girls will be able to be more autonomous - but they can also get alongside taking more responsibility - they can be the time keepers. They can set an alarm on a mobile phone, or on the oven, and they can help to motivate the little ones to tidy up or get dressed by running a race or counting the toys.

Involve Kids In Problem Solving


Get them involved in helping to solve the family problems. Start with something really specific - when there is a recurring issue with them not listening, have a look for the pattern - is it worse at meal-times, getting ready for school, bedtime? Is it worse when you are trying to do a million things at once? When TV is on? Then ask them for help - "We have a problem here I need your help with" I don't like that I end up yelling at you to get ready for school, and I want us to sit down and work out a better plan so we can all get out the door happily in the morning".

Have them tell YOU what they think might be part of the problem and then you also contribute your issues. (Remember you are modelling listening here!) List all the issues - like they hate being nagged,
you have too much to do in the morning,
you have to dress the little one as he can't do so much for himself,
they forget stuff,
they hate being rushed,
they don't care if they go to school with their hair un-brushed etc.

Then go through with them and brainstorm some ideas to help that time of day be a happier time. "I know you will have some good ideas for how we can have happier less stressful mornings. Let's write down some of them and see what we can do differently".

Switching to problem solving, and valuing their contribution, rather than having to be the dictator is far more useful. Of course as parents we have executive control over family life, and we do have to hold the bigger picture about getting places on time, and having food and clean clothes etc. But the more we include our kids in decision making and discussions about how the household runs, then the more they take ownership and participate without you having to be the police woman. My kids were cooking meals by aged 7 so kids can participate a lot more than we let them. Mom's who are frazzled, don't have time to stop and listen, and the cycle continues of yelling and getting frustrated and exhausted.

Part Four Follows . . .

Getting Kids To Listen - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

You have a very busy household - four children is full on, and exhausting. You need the kids to be actively participating in family life, not being passively told what to do, and when to do it, and with you running on empty. Kids learn a lot from taking responsibility for something. For example, cooking a meal, means planing, maths, measuring, timing, nutrition, health etc. sure you need to oversee things, but the more they are involved, the less you have to impose your demands on them.

Try to find plenty of time to enjoy them and have fun, you have a very busy household, and it can be overwhelming holding it all together. The more you can make household activities fun and interesting, the more they participate willingly. When chores feel like a punishment, no child wants to listen or do what they are asked.

Good luck, and feel free to make any comments,
Annie D :)

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