Parents magazine polled moms and dads about their toughest discipline challenge, and the hands-down winner was “My kid doesn’t listen to me.”
Getting kids to listen…and doing so the first time…is an art. And like any art, it takes practice. We also know that learning how to listen does not happen by chance. You are your child’s best communication instructor, and it’s never too early–or too late–to improve your child’s listening habits.
First, it is important to understand that it is okay if your child does not occasionally listen. If, however, your son or daughter does not listen on a regular basis or is continually disrespectful, your approach may be an incorrect one. There are, in fact, a couple of communication processes that are best to avoid.
- Avoid aggressive communication. As a parent it can be easy to get frustrated but a loud “attacking” tone places kids of any age on the defensive and can create an anxious child or one who thinks it is acceptable to yell.
- Avoid a passive tone. While speaking quietly can get a child to listen, being overly passive allows your kids to walk all over you . . . which sometimes results in arguing.
For many, listening skills don’t come naturally . . . it often takes a lot of work. Here are some tips.
- Model good listening skills – Show your kids what you expect. Listen to your spouse, pay attention to your friend’s comments, and, most importantly listen to your children. Teach your kids to look others in the eye by asking them to do so. For the little ones, this can mean getting down to eye level when having a serious conversation.
- Don’t shout from across the house. When an important subject needs to be discussed or even something simple needs to be done, make sure the environment is distraction free. Ask kids to pause the TV, take a short break from their video game, look up from the homework, etc. If kids are doing something, it is natural to tune-out parents.
- Be reliable. “I will bring home dessert tonight”, “you can watch that show tomorrow,” or “I won’t be long” seem like innocent promises but can erode trust and the desire to listen if these expectations are unfulfilled. Say what you mean and do what you say.
- Tell don’t ask. If you phrase your want as a request or a question, your child can say no. Even a child that is not oppositional may respond negatively because your question has provided the opportunity to do so. Don’t ask your child to clean his room; rather, tell him to do so. And even better tie a positive outcome to the request. When your room is clean, you can play a video game.
They way you ask will greatly influence how well your child listens to you. It will not, however, produce an “overly” compliant child, but that should not be your parenting goal. Proper communication teaches your child to be reasonable, thoughtful, and well connected to the family. And if you have done all of the above and your child still NEVER listens—might be time for a hearing test.