Getting kids to listen

A response to the question: How do I get my children to communicate or to listen to basic requests?

Notice what your child is doing. Is she focused on a particular project or a phone call? Is he deep in thought?

Communication is a little like merging into highway traffic. Look ahead, match your speed with the traffic speed, find a place to fit in, and then join the line of cars when the timing is right. Rushing into a child’s room expecting her to pay attention to you is like leaping from the on-ramp into oncoming traffic. It’s an accident waiting to happen. Are you trying to speak without the other’s full attention?

When lovers court each other, they slow down and gaze into each other’s eyes. When a new baby is born, parents gaze into her eyes. When rapport is good, people begin to mirror each other’s body language. 90-95% of what we communicate is nonverbal. I suggest that you begin there. When you don’t know what to say, stay present in silence.

Merge with your child. Find out what he’s interested in in that moment. When he has your attention, then you can ask for his. Even if your child wants to do something else, you’ll likely be able to better understand that intention rather than thinking that he’s ignoring you. If you need to interrupt, say so. Treat your child as you would like to be treated. For example: “Excuse me, may I have your attention?” Then, ask for what you want while linking it to the needs you want to meet. For example, you might say, “Take out the trash, please.” and it may be heard. Requests are better understood when prefaced with a clear need and connection. Try something like “Remember when we agreed that you’d take out the trash after dinner while I did the dishes?” When you get a nod and smile, ask, “Could you do that now?”

What if you’re not getting the nod and the smile? The child’s attachment to you and the relationship between you and your child may need some attention. Before focusing on the behaviour you don’t enjoy in the moment, first establish good rapport with your child. For example, before talking about the trash, be sure your child is enjoying your company in the moment. We spend much of our day telling our children all the ways they are behaving badly. Begin to spend more time each day enjoying each other’s company, sharing a meal, chatting about what’s important to them, and sharing your stories. I know this gets harder the older the child. However, there is no other way. Your heart already knows how to do this. Forget all the parent training that says that children should do this or that at such and such age. The fastest way to win our children over is through their hearts. They need to depend on us to be there for them and listen to them. They need to know that we will take care of them and our relationship with them. When our kids feel secure, they are likely to help out around the house if that’s what we’re looking for.

About Wendy McDonnell

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