I can’t tell you how often I feel my requests to my children are falling on deaf ears! It’s true, children are not always the best listeners – in fact, my almost-three year old regularly tunes me out! It mostly happens when she is concentrating intently on something or absorbed in an activity, whether it be a game she is playing, a book she is ‘reading’ or a program she is watching on TV, but then there are those particularly frustrating times when she just doesn’t want to hear (or respond to) what I say. And her seven year old sister…yep, she does it to!
Listening is important to both academic success and social interaction (not to mention parental sanity!) Fortunately there are simple ways to encourage your child to listen to what you have to say. However, as simple as they may be, I find a regular reminder doesn’t hurt, as I can tell you that these simple actions don’t always come immediately to mind when I am in the middle of a particularly frustrating encounter of the child-parent non-listening kind! So if you are anything like me, a regular reminder of the small tips that make parenting easier can only be a good thing!
10 Ways to Get Kids to Listen
1. Get in close
My girls simply do not tune in to what I am saying if I am bellowing from another room, or often even if I am speaking across the same room. The #1 way I can increase the likelihood that what I say will be heard is to get in close, connecting face to face, eyeball to eyeball, to share my message. Plus looking directly at each other helps your child to tune in to your non-verbal communication cues.
2. Keep it short and simple
Keeping instructions, questions or statements short and simple is much more effective than an unnecessarily long winded discourse. Say what you need to say in the shortest way possible.
3. Say what you want to see
…not what you don’t! Phrasing instructions more positively, “Time to hold hands to cross the road” versus “Don’t run on the road,” places the action that you WANT to happen more firmly in your child’s conscious, rather than the action that you DON’T WANT to see.
4. Provide simple choices
Older toddlers and preschoolers are developing a greater sense of independence, and separateness from you, so providing them with simple choices helps them to feel like they have an element of control in the situation. You can read more about how I do choices here.
5. Speak quietly
When your child is not responding to your request, try reducing the volume of your voice rather than increasing it in frustration. This often acts to pique your child’s curiosity and, as whispering secrets is such great fun, it can also be an effective way of encouraging participation.
6. Sing for your sanity
You can always try singing your instructions! After all, preschool teachers have been using this one for years! Like speaking quietly, singing can engage your children, plus it makes tasks such as packing away good fun. One of my daughters does not enjoy having her hair washed at all but it is amazing the difference it makes if we are raucously singing and laughing as we do it. A simple “This is the way we wash our hair,” to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is usually all it takes.
7. Wait until they’re calm
There is little point trying to make your point when your child is in the grip of intense emotions. Wait until they’re calm and then help them come back to a point where they can attend to what you are saying more effectively. You can find some great ideas for helping children to manage big emotions here.
Sometimes shutting children down because you just don’t have the time or patience for a negotiation can be counter-productive because the resulting battle when they don’t feel heard will take longer than listening to their input in the first place. Taking a moment to pause and listen to your child’s thoughts, even when you know it can’t or won’t change the outcome of your request, helps to make your child feel like a considered part of the conversation. And we all know how important it is to keep those lines of communication open.
9. Preempt problems
Your child is much more likely to listen and respond positively when they are not hungry, overtired or overwhelmed. Be realistic about your expectations for behaviour and listening when your children have the hangries (hungry-angries!), when they are tired or when they are out of routine. You can click through via these links to find out more about proactively avoiding tantrums with toddlers and bigger kids.
10. Provide your child with tools to succeed
Family routines and habits, and aids to those routines like our printable routine cards and weekly routine chart, help you to eliminate nagging and help your child to learn responsibility. Saying, “What do you need to pack for school today? Let’s check your chart” is much more pleasant and effective than nagging them to put their music book in their bag. Think about the routines and habits you would like to develop with your child and then look for tools to support them in becoming more independent and responsible for getting those things done each day.
Remember effective listening can help your child become a better student, a great friend, and will hopefully also help to improve family harmony – reducing the number of requests falling on deaf ears! Good luck!
What tips do you have for encouraging your child to listen?