The other evening, dinner was approaching. I poked my head out of the kitchen and asked ever so cheerfully for my children to put away their books and toys and start getting ready for dinner. “Uhm…uhm..” Was the general answer but I saw no real action. My request was…ignored.
When children don’t listen (and by listen we usually mean cooperate or comply) it can be a button pushing moment. In that moment, when a nice request is ignored or worse even, met with some serious eye rolling, it can be extra hard to respond calmly and kindly.
Three Steps To Encourage Children To Listen
1. Stay Calm & Confident
When children don’t listen, being calm and confident can take extra effort, but really it is the key to getting kids to listen. While we may want to do more yelling and demanding, children just don’t respond well to yelling. If we raise our voices we invite power struggles, back talk and more resistance. If we stay calm, our children learn to trust our guidance.
2. Connect First
Having a request ignored can be a big trigger for power struggles, yelling and conflicts. This approach to first connect, actively encourages cooperation. It also models much better communication skills for our children.
Is it all that bad to cheerfully (or at times, not so cheerfully) make a request from the kitchen? No, it isn’t. But relying on this “across the rooms” communication doesn’t help children transition very well. What’s more, if your child yelled for you across the room with a request, would your first instinct be to respond or to ask them to “stop yelling”?
Connecting first might sound like:
“Hi there, so, how is that book going, you seem to be really into it?”
“Hey, wow, can I know the story here with all these elephants and crocodiles?”
Such questions opens the door for listening to our children for a moment. And when children feel like we are listening to them, they are much more likely to give us the same kind of attention.
3. Make Kind & Clear Requests
After a moment of connection, the last step for encouraging better listening is to make a very clear request that is also kind.
“Get ready for dinner” “Get ready for bed” “Do all homework” “Clean up your stuff” “Hurry up already”
Can all be a bit unclear. Even if there is a very specific routine that the children are already used to. Children respond much better to kind & clear requests. Kindness can come in the form of flexibility and choices. You can be Clear in the way you make your request very specific, age appropriate and actionable.
So break down requests into kind, clear, actionable items.
“It’s time to wash hands. (Clear) Let’s meet in the kitchen when you finished washing hands.” (Kind) For a young child you can even add “I can’t wait to guess what soap you used!”
“It’s time for pajamas and brushing teeth. (Clear) You can pick which you do first!” (Kind)
“It’s time to clean up. Let’s place all the blocks in this basket…..Now, let’s put the books on the shelf” (Kind and Clear)
“For homework, which assignment are you starting with? Math or Writing? I’m in livingroom reading if you have questions.” (Kind and Clear)
Suggested Reading:Twelve Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools for Raising Cooperative Children
Why do these three steps together encourage more listening?
When we take the time to connect first, we are helping children not only feel validated, we are modeling respectful ways to communicate and how to show interest in others. Then by making a clear and kind request, we open the door for cooperation.
When children ignore our requests all the time, or only “listen after a yelling fit” it can be a sign a child needs more connection, validation, choice, encouragement and loving guidance. Sometimes it can also just be a reflection of how we have been talking to them.
“Come on, I already asked like three times!! Pick up those toys!! Seriously, how many times!!!” Sound familiar?
I know first hand that It’s impossible to get it right all the time…communication might get rushed, requests may get loud. But…give these three steps a try. It can really make a difference. When I feel rushed, and then intentionally create calmer, connected interactions, I see my children begin doing the same. That evening when I was ignored, I walked over, chatted with everyone for less than a minute, and then made my request in a kind and clear way. Ignoring was over and I didn’t need to yell!
To encourage children to listen more, and stop yelling out “how many times” “OMG didn’t I ask you already,” and “seriously, didn’t I call for you like forever ago?” I encourage you to look at times when you need to make a request from your child as an invitation for more connection with your child. Stay calm. Connect. Then Request.
If you are still getting resistance and no “listening”? Try validating “I hear you wish you didn’t have to…” plus offer to work together “Let’s get started together, I’ll do…. and you can…”