WHY YOUR KIDS WON'T LISTEN
A full guide to understanding why your child is not listening to you, and how you can get your child to cooperate
Simple requests like getting dressed, sitting at the table for meals, or going to bed on time are ignored and met with resistance.
The number one reason kids don't listen is because they long for connection with you. Kids cannot communicate what they are feeling a lot of the time, and as a result, they act out, become defiant, and try to grab your attention whether positive or negative. Every action and word contains an underlying message of communication. This is why WE have to listen for the messages, because from a developmental standpoint, our kids' brains aren't mature enough to tell us exactly what they are thinking.
When your child is ignoring you, acting defiant, not listening, or fighting you, remember that staying calm is your biggest parenting asset.
Kids are highly driven by their emotional brain, not their logical thinking brain. The pre-frontal cortex doesn't fully mature until adulthood. Children are experiencing the greatest brain development of their life. A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to the age of three - producing more than a million neural connections each second!
When you start to yell and get angry, your child's emotional brain immediately flips into overdrive and their logical / thinking brain shuts down completely. Nothing you say in those moments will stick with your child to improve future behaviour. Eventually, you find yourself in a vicious cycle of yelling accompanied by your child not listening. Your connection with your child erodes, which makes your child misbehave even more.
So what can you do about it? You need to dissect their behaviour in order to understand what it is they are trying to tell you.
HOW DO YOU DO THAT?
You need to step into their world. You need to drop what you are doing, and connect with them. Just 10 minutes a day will make a massive improvement. Play with your child.
Acknowledge your child. They want to feel understood. You can do this by simply describing what your child is experiencing at the time. It is incredibly effective in getting your child to listen to you, because your child feels understood and loved.
Now something to remember is that your child will only listen, once they FEEL HEARD. So once they know they feel understood and heard, they will be far more cooperative to listen.
It is important to note that helping your child feel heard does not equal collapsing boundaries. Your boundaries stay exactly the same. Imagine your boundaries like brick walls; they don't fall down simply because your child doesn't like it.
Look for positive behaviour and describe it, and encourage it, without using phrases like “you’re a clever boy” or “Such a good girl”. The general rule of thumb is that for any one negative comment you may have said to your child, there needs to be 5 more positive comments in order to keep the relationship balanced. What you say to your child is extremely important. Here are some examples:
WHAT DO I SAY TO MY CHILD?
“You've got a red crayon and you're drawing up and down. Now you're drawing circles round and round. You are working really hard to draw a picture exactly how you'd like it to be."
"You're eating the sandwiche off your plate. You took two big bites and then you put it down to drink some water. Wow. You're really enjoying your lunch today."
"This is difficult for you. You don't want your sister to touch your toys. You wish all the toys belonged to you."
"You don't want to wear your shoes. You want to be barefoot."
“You did it all by yourself!”
“I can see you're really trying your best.”
“You worked hard for that, and you deserve to feel proud."
“You can be so proud of yourself”
“That was an innovative model you built!”
“It was very kind of you to share with your friend.”
“You sat through the entire meal at dinner.”
“You cleaned up after yourself.”
YOUR STEP-BY-STEP ACTION GUIDE
The next time your child is not listening, use these steps to help gain cooperation:
Listen to what your child is telling you both verbally and non-verbal.
Use Reflective Listening, and reflect it all back to your child:
"You don't like that."
"You don't want to _____."
"You wish you could _____ instead."
"This is difficult for you."
Keep your boundary matter-of-factly.
“You're really enjoying ______ right now. At the same time… We need to leave the house for school."
PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
When you chat to a close friend about your parenting struggles, how frustrated, overwhelmed and tired you are, how you feel like a failure some days, and how you just want your child to listen, it would feel especially irritating if they said to you:
"Stop it, this is not worth crying about."
"You have nothing to complain about, other people have it worse."
"I don't want to hear about it."
"That's not how to handle this situation."
But what if they said:
"You know, parenting is a really hard job. Some days you don't really want to do it. I know what you're going through"
It helps knowing that someone understands what we are saying. They don't even need to fix it. You just need to feel heard.
Kids want the same thing.
What is challenging as a parent in these situations is that sometimes the communication is uncomfortable. Your child's communications may involve an explosion of impulsive emotions and feelings.
In these uncomfortable moments, be there for your child through the emotional rollercoaster. Let them know they are loved, safe and are able to express themselves in your presence. Remember that they are still learning how to handle their emotions. So put yourself in their shoes.
Continue with your step-by-step action guide above until your child is done communicating. As hard as it is, this is the only way you can help your child move past their intense feelings and emotions.
10 QUICK AND EASY STRATEGIES
To get your child to listen the FIRST time
1 DO AS YOU ASK:
Performing the behavior you want your child to perform is key to building great listening skills. For example, making a mess and saying "Oops, Mom made a mess, I'm going to clean it up", paves the way for a child to listen the first time by modeling your behaviour.
2. ONLY GIVE INSTRUCTIONS ONCE:
Don't repeat yourself. When you repeat yourself, you teach your child to ignore you. If your child knows that you "don't really mean it" until the third or fourth time, they will wait until then to start "listening".
When you're ready to give your child instructions, be prepared to mean it the first time and follow through on your word.
3. GET INTO A DAILY ROUTINE:
The more routines you have, the less you have to be nag or repeat yourself. Daily routines before playtime, mealtime, leaving the house, and bedtime set clear expectations for cooperation.
The more consistent a child's day, the more they know what is expected of them. And the more they know what is expected, the more cooperative they are.
4. LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD
If you stare at your screen while your child tries to show you a toy or tell you something, you are modeling exactly what they should do when you speak to them. Model for your kids exactly how you would like them to respond when you tell them a set of instructions.
5. HELP THEM THROUGH THE TRANSITION OF WHAT YOU NEED THEM TO DO
When kids are in the middle of play, it is frustrating and upsetting when parents give them directions to suddenly "leave the house" or "go to bed." Think about when you are in the middle of something important or when you are watching your favourite program, and you need to abruptly stop. Let your child know shortly ahead of time what is about to happen, using one of the descriptive phrases from above. When it's time to move on, you can help them finish what they are doing, while reminding them what are about to do. This will help them move onto the next task.
6. USE SHORT REQUESTS AND SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS
Use few words to convey your message. Kids are easily overwhelmed with long instructions and stop listening. To prevent a child from feeling overwhelmed, use one or two very short sentences and aim to keep it simple.
7. GET DOWN TO YOUR CHILD'S LEVEL
Research shows that kids engaged in an activity, such as playing, reading, or gaming, often do not register their surroundings. This is what the world of child development refers to as "limited peripheral awareness." Your child's limited peripheral awareness prevents him or her from registering your directions from across the room or even nearby. Get down to your child's level, make eye contact, and make sure you have their attention before giving directions.
8. GIVE YOUR CHILD A COUNTDOWN
Set clear boundaries and let your child know about it well ahead of time. If you require them to stop playing and tidy up their toys in 30 minutes, give them the notice, and let them know how much more time they have. Start at 30 more minutes... then 20 more minutes... 10 more minutes... 5 more minutes... two more minutes... times up, time to pack away.
9. MAKE A GAME OUT OF YOUR REQUEST
If your child finds your request fun, they are more likely to listen. Make a game out of eating, where the aeroplane parks at the airport of your child's mouth, or where the tickle monster comes out to play when children aren't getting dressed. It's far more fun, they enjoy the attention and are more inclined to listen when you get more "serious".
10. SING YOUR WAY TO A LISTENING CHILD
Music is a powerful tool to use when your child doesn’t listen. It can improve a child’s mood, catch their attention, and improve listening. It's also easier for your child's brain to process and follow a set of instructions when they are sung. You can sing songs about getting dressed, brushing teeth, going to bed, cleaning up. Sing to your heart's content!
YOU'RE ALL SET!
I hope you enjoyed this guide adapted from The Military Wife and can put every section into practice! Remember, consistency is key, and it allows your child to feel safe through your words. Please contact me if you need any more information or assistance.
"When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos." - L.R. Knost
Why Your Kids Aren't Listening
Disobedience (Part 1&2): How To Get Your Child To Listen The First Time