Friday, March 7, 2014

My child will not listen!

As parents, few things can make us feel quite as crazy as a child who will not listen to us. Maybe he yells “no!” back at you, or just ignores you altogether. A mother of a 3-year-old girl recently asked me how to encourage her daughter to listen better. This mom described particular issues around getting her daughter to follow directions (such as “Go brush your teeth” or “Pick up your toys”) and to stop unwanted behavior (such as pinching her mother). This mom said, “I don’t want her to be a robot and do everything she is told to do.  But sometimes I get to my wits end about it. So at the point when I am trying to be cool, calm, and collected, I raise my voice.  And I hate raising my voice.  I don’t think it’s effective.” I think all parents feel this way! And while it’s OK to sometimes lose your cool (after all, you are human!) there are lots of ways to encourage your child to listen to you so you don’t have to yell.

  • Give warning of upcoming transitions. Kids like to know what’s happening next, and some of what we see as “not listening” may be difficulty making an abrupt transition. So, if you know it is almost time for a transition - like cleaning up, taking a bath, leaving a play date - just give your kids some warning. I usually say something like, “Guys, in five minutes, we’re going to leave,” and then in a few minutes (if I remember), “OK, we’re leaving in one minute.” Young kids don’t really have a concept of time, so these don't have to be accurate estimations, but just giving one or two warnings will help with their willingness to make transitions.
  • Don’t ask for permission. When you give a direction, make sure you are telling and not asking! For instance, if you say something like, "Honey, do you want to wash your hands for dinner?" be prepared for an emphatic "No!" It is most common for parents to add an innocent "OK?" on the end of a direction (such as "It's time for bath, OK?"). Like they say, don't ask the question if you don't want the answer!
  • Use humor and fun. Young kids are more likely to participate in an activity if it is light and fun - and this includes chores. If your daughter won't clean up her toys, lighten the activity by putting on her dress-up clothes and saying, "OK, if you don't want to clean up, I guess these are mine now!" Or, make clean-up into a game by having a race to see who can clean up first, or by pretending to be pirates collecting treasure (toys). 
  • Distract and entice. If you know a transition is going to be an issue, try to distract your child with something cool that is coming up next. For instance, "Let's go listen to your favorite song in the car!" or "It's time to read our new library book for bedtime!"
  • Give choices. Sometimes what we're asking kids to do is simply not fun, and there is no way to entice them (or you simply don't have the time or energy to do so). In those cases, it is helpful to give simple choices so your child still feels like he has some power in the situation. For instance, "It's time to put on our shoes. Do you want to wear the blue ones or the red ones today?" or "It's time to put on our shoes. Do you want to put them on yourself or do you want me to do it?"
  • Give structure. Sometimes the job we are asking our kids to do is a little overwhelming to them. Providing a little structure may help. For instance, you can set a timer, give a specific box or bin to put toys in, or set out her toothbrush with the toothpaste already on it. 
  • Keep on moving. For instance, one of my sons often refuses to get undressed and ready for bath time. Instead of constantly nagging him, or forcing him to get in, I simply keep moving through the bath time routine with his brother, and say, "OK buddy, if you miss bath time, you will have to take a shower instead." Since he doesn't love to take showers, this usually works and he gets in the bath of his own accord.  

What to do if things go wrong:

  • Do it yourself. This is especially necessary when you are in a hurry and don't have time for a battle - such as dressing for school in the morning. If I am in this situation, I change the scenario a bit to ensure that my kids are not being reinforced for the behavior - for instance, I might say, "OK, but if I have to put your clothes on for you, then I am going to choose this shirt instead." Be sure that you doing the unwanted task does not simply allow your child to consistently avoid it. I make sure to talk to my son at a later time about how he is a big kid and can get dressed all by himself, and how I expect him to do it next time. (Then, I make sure to start the morning routine earlier tomorrow!)
  • Think about how to prevent issues next time.  For instance, if your daughter will not clean up her bedroom, create a specific rule about when she is expected to clean up - and stick to it. If she still refuses, perhaps it is time to remove some of the extraneous stuff that always seems to just end up being thrown around. I have a whole closet of toys and games that have been removed from our playroom for that very reason!  (Kids don't need every toy and book and game out in plain sight all the time, so you can also choose to just keep a few things out on a rotating basis.)

Things to remember:

  • Be realistic.  Be sure that your child is capable of doing the task you are asking of him, or of following the direction you are giving! If you are unsure, break it down into simpler parts.
  • Be consistent. If you want your child to clean up her room every night, then be sure to enforce this rule every night!
  • Stay calm. While it is frustrating when your child will not listen, it does not help things to get outwardly frustrated at him. Take those deep breaths, count to 10, whatever will make you calm!
  • Praise them for listening. When you notice your child following a direction, be sure to point it out with praise, high-fives, or hugs!

1 comment:

  1. Wise words. I have seen such positive reactions to these suggestions. Grandmas out there need this advice. Even though our grandchildren are our darlings there are times they will push the envelope even with us.