I hear theses phrases a lot from parents. “Why won’t my kid listen?” or “How can I get my child to listen to me?” Typically, my first response is, “Do you want him to listen or to comply?”
Because often, children are listening to what their grown ups are saying. For better and for worse. But do they always “hop to” and comply with what they’re being asked to do immediately? For sure the answer is no. Here are a few tips to help you with the “listen or comply” challenge:
1. Don’t ask a question when you mean to make a statement. Phrases like “It’s gonna be time for dinner soon, okay?” open up an opportunity for your child to say, “No, I’m still playing.” They also do not express to your child what you’re actually saying, which is “Finish up what you’re doing” or “It’s time to clean up and go wash hands, dinner will be on the table in 2 minutes.”
2. Be specific with your instructions. If you want your child to start cleaning up, say that. “In 5 minutes it will be time to come to the table. Finish with you’re doing and start cleaning up.”
3. Encourage acknowledgement of your words. It’s true that sometimes children are completely engrossed in what they are doing. Sometimes a tap on the shoulder before you are going to speak or requiring that your child acknowledges that you’ve spoken and he’s understood what you’re saying, can be incredibly helpful. Praise your child when they’ve responded appropriately to having heard your instruction.
4. Use specific praise. When your child does what you’ve requested, particularly when they’ve done it after your first time asking, let them know how helpful it is. Praise them for being a “first time listener.” Let them know that when you work together, other good things can happen (ex: they clean up and come to the table, so there is time for an extra story at bedtime).
5. Accept that they are children and are not going to comply right away, all the time. Sometimes a little resistance isn’t a bad thing. Children may be especially engaged in something they are working on. If they can ask for 5 more minutes in an appropriate way, give it to them. Other times, you’re simply going to have to ask them to put their shoes on 3 times before they do, because they’re doing the “morning dawdle.” Keep your expectations realistic and remember to praise when they do it right.