There are so many things that we need our children to do in order for our house and our schedule to run smoothly. We have a vision of what must get done, how it should be done, and when it should all happen.
But kids have a totally different take on how their day should flow. It’s as if they live in an alternate reality. Who needs to brush your teeth? What’s wrong with staying in pajamas all day?
Here are five simple ways to help you stop struggling with your kids and get your kids listen to you:
1. Understand why kids have a hard time listening to you.
Besides the fact that parents and children have different goals and aspirations for their day (productivity vs. free play all day long), kids have a hard time listening and following directions because kids, like all human beings, possess a strong need for independence.
Being independent makes us feel that we have some control over our decisions and our fate. We are empowered by knowing that we can think for ourselves, take care of ourselves, and rely on ourselves to survive in this world. Children are often torn between wanting their parents to take care of them and needing to feel independent. They are confused. When their parents ask them to do something and they need to comply, they are also battling their inner voice which might be telling them: "You don't need to listen to anyone. You are your own boss, you can do your own thing!"
Once we understand why it is so hard for kids to listen, we can approach our interactions with compassion, tact and understanding.
We will hopefully be less angry when our kids don’t listen. We can then focus our energies on in a more positive direction.
2. Create a home routine and schedule.
The next step is setting you and your child up for success. The easiest way to do that is to make sure that your home environment is conducive to cooperation. Routines and child friendly conditions can go a long way in helping your child listen.
The real key to preparing a routine is to involve your child and include his input. This feeds into his need to be independent and make his own decisions. Then you can plan a schedule that works for everyone.
“What would be the best time for you to do your homework?”
“Our doctor appointment is at 2pm. When do you want to stop playing with your toys and get ready to go?”
The same goes for a child-friendly home environment. Find out why your child is not hanging up his coat and what would be the best place to put some hooks (at his eye level) so that it is easy for him to comply. Shoes can be put in the same place everyday. Ditto for their clothing. Help them organize it in a way that makes it accessible to them, so that they are not always searching for their pants or shirt.
3. Use neutral language.
It can be frustrating to get our kids to cooperate. We often resort to accusations and blaming to get our kids to listen. This often sets a negative tone, and usually brings on defensive behavior that leads to power struggles:
Why do you always leave your shoes in the middle of the hall? Why do you always make a big deal about everything? Just pick out a shirt already!
Instead use language that is neutral and non-confrontational:
Shoes belong in the closet. Let’s both take a few minutes to calm down before we finish this conversation. Time is short. A shirt needs to be decided on now.
Using neutral, non-confrontational language helps parents feel in control and keep kids feeling encouraged and aids them in listening.
4. Give Choices.
Giving choices helps give your child the autonomy they crave within a safe framework.
There are more benefits to giving children choices. It teaches kids how to make decisions. It also builds their self-esteem as they learn to develop problem-solving skills. This makes them feel more powerful and in control of their lives. They become better listeners and more cooperative. Not only that, choices also allow parents to maintain their position of authority. Children need to comply with their parents’ requests, but they get to choose the method. It is a win/win situation.
- Do you want to drink milk in your blue or red cup?
- Do you want to eat dinner now or in five minutes?
- Do you want to clean up your dolls or your blocks first?
- Do you want to hop or jump into your car seat?
And with older kids:
- I need help with dinner. Do you want to make the salad or set the table?
- The bus comes in a half hour. Do you want me to come in and wake you up again or would you like to set your alarm for a few more minutes?
- When are you planning on doing your homework, before or after dinner?
5. Help Kids Problem Solve Their Way To Listening.
One of the best ways to help kids listen is to involve them in discussions on how to solve the problems of family life.
Anytime there is a problem at home we can say, “Let’s take a minute to figure out a solution.” We can then ask some questions to promote problem-solving skills in our kids:
“What can we do to make sure that everyone is chipping in to help clear off the table?”
“I bought a box of cookies, what can we do to make sure that they are shared evenly in the house?”
“When Sara and Eli both have friends over there are problems over who gets to play in the basement. Does anyone have any ideas on how we can work this out?”
Teaching your children to think about solutions will give you a partner who will be more likely to listen as you solve life’s little and big problems together.
Helping kids to listen and cooperate is a big job. Understanding your child’s need for independence, setting up routines, using neutral language, giving choices and focusing on solutions, can make it that much easier.