“How Can I Make My Children Listen To Me?”
Short answer – I don’t know exactly.
But I do have some strategies from my days as a teacher and my own parenting to share with you which may increase the chances!
When some of my readers told me that they struggle with getting their children to listen to them, I knew it was something that almost every parent can relate to. Because I certainly can! When our children don’t listen to us, situations can quickly escalate. A simple reminder that it’s time for them to do their homework can rapidly become a shouting, stomping affair (and not just by the children!). So, I decided to do some thinking and see if I had anything useful to offer…
WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING WHEN OUR CHILDREN DON’T LISTEN?
I took a moment to think about what’s happening when our children “don’t listen” and I realised that there are two main scenarios –
1. Our children really aren’t listening, they’re zoning us out (how dare they?!)
2. Our children have listened but they’re not doing what we have asked them to do.
In our house, it’s usually the later (although I understand that, as they reach adolescence, children become more certain that what their parents are saying doesn’t actually apply to them and they nonchalantly ignore it much of the time). I don’t take it very well when my boys don’t do as I have asked. I feel frustrated and disrespected. But when I questioned myself, Are my boys really disrespecting me when they don’t listen? I had to conclude that, no, they’re actually not disrespecting me – it’s just that they don’t agree with me.
They don’t agree that they should turn the tv off to leave for school – they just want to see how the program ends.
They don’t agree that they should wear tidier clothes for our special family lunch – they like this t-shirt.
They don’t agree that they should come and set the table now – there’s playing to be done and setting the table is such a draaag.
When I remember that my boys usually aren’t meaning to disrespect me by not listening, it diffuses my emotion because I know it’s not personal and then I handle the situation more calmly. I can aknowledge that my children have their own concerns and opinions that deserve respect. Who’s to say their interests are less important than my own? As inconvenient as it sometimes is, they need to have a say in their own lives. As spiritual parents, we understand that our children are not ours to control and we are bound to at least take their point of view into consideration. After truly considering it, we can then fairly decide whether to insist on what we’ve asked for, compromise or allow them their way.
What I’m getting at here is that our relationship with our children is a relationship between equals. True respect doesn’t see age. Sure, there are times when I am certain that I know best – I’m the one who can read the clock and I know that, if the tv isn’t turned off now, we won’t get to school in time. But I don’t want to be heavy-handed in my authority or use my age over my children. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter what they wear to the family lunch – my family will just be glad to see them, chocolate-stained Star Wars t-shirts and all. We do not lose our power when we decide to allow our children their way – we are more powerful for sharing it.
5 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN LISTEN TO YOU
How we approach things really depends on the scenario and the age of our children. But here are 5 general steps for increasing the chance of having them listen to us when it really is for the best, beginning with the way we tell them what we want –
1. Get their attention
Often, I can’t be bothered trudging upstairs to my boys’ bedrooms so I holler instructions to them from the kitchen as I chop the onions. Then I wait for the response – none.
The key is to get our children’s eye-contact before telling them what we want them to do so we know they are engaged. Looking into our eyes, they can’t pretend to themselves or to us that they haven’t heard. This may require us to make the effort to go up the stairs and maybe to temporarily remove distractions (such as toys or screens) to get our children’s attention. For young children, physically getting down to eye-level is helpful too.
2. Insist on a verbal response
When our children reply, they’re acknowledging that they have heard us. Sometimes, “ok” is sufficient. Sometimes, they need to tell us more, depending what it is that we have said to them. Again, they can’t deny hearing or understanding our message if they have responded appropriately. And it’s just good manners to respond when someone speaks to us.
3. Give them a chance to share their point of view
If they disagree with us, our children need to be able to say so. It is an important life-skill to be able to express a point of view that differs from someone else’s. Also, when we take the time to listen to what they have to say, it shows them that we care about their perspective and feelings. Disagreement doesn’t have to become an argument. If they do start arguing back, I tell my boys, “you can tell me what you have to say but do it respectfully”. When we hear our children’s point of view, we might find that we’re actually happy to accommodate them or are willing to compromise. All these things strengthen our relationship with them and, when we still insist on them doing what we have said, they are more likely to do it, having felt acknowledged.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. – Steven Covey
Note of caution: With some nimble-tongued characters, it can be a slippery slope of persuasion and excuses not to do whatever has been asked of them. Be on the look-out and don’t get sucked in. If, after hearing their persepctive, I still want my son to do as I asked and the attempts to change my mind continue beyond reason, I just say “I have listened to you but I am not changing my mind”.
4. Explain our reasons for what we have asked them to do
When we decide that we are not going to change our mind, it helps for our children to understand our reasoning. “I don’t have to justify myself to my own kids!” I hear more than one of you saying. 😊 Giving them our reasons also shows them that we’re not being arbitrary or simply pleasing ourselves. Our children may even agree with us in the end. My son doesn’t like being late to school so, if I point out that he may be late if he doesn’t turn the tv off now, he’s usually happy to co-operate.
5. Use the sliding scale of insistence
When I have heard my son’s point of view and still want him to do as I asked, I begin lightly, with the assumption that he will now do as asked. For example, I might simply say, “So, come and set the table now please”. If he doesn’t, I gradually up the stakes – “If you don’t come and set the table now, I will have to take that Lego away until it’s done because it’s distracting you from doing your job”. etc. I try to use natural consequences as much as possible and not to manipulate. You might find my post Discipline 101 helpful here.
This 5-step process might sound like a bit of a palaver when you just want your kids to stop jumping on the couch. In some situations, you will zip through these steps in just a minute or two. But it’s helpful to have the structure in place, practised for when there are larger issues to be resolved.
IN SUMMARY – GIVING EVERYONE A VOICE WITHOUT GETTING LOUDER
Often, when we complain that our children are not listening to us, we’re really complaining that they’re not doing what we’ve told them to do. This erks us on so many levels! We tend to increase our volume to get our message across – and they do the same! But using a process like the one I’ve suggested respects and empowers both ourselves and our children. The final decision does rest with us, the parent, but we have to (and want to) take our children’s point-of-view seriously. Creating an atmosphere of co-operation instead of control in our homes reduces the amount of struggle and increases everyone’s willingness to help.
My son has actually told me a few times that I’m “always right” which I like to jokingly remind him of from time to time. But, when I take everyone’s perspective into consideration, I am doing the right thing.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – Do you have any of your own tips for getting your children to listen? Share in the comments.
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It was early in the morning. I hadn’t been up for more than ten minutes but I had already shouted at my boys three times. Having been a teacher, I’m usually pretty good at what I call “professional calm” – the ability to avoid getting wound up in the emotions of the moment and respond calmly to a situation. Normally, I’m a minimal shouter but there was no sign of that woman on this particular morning. “Why am I shouting at my children?” I wondered.
When I find myself shouting, it is a signal to go inwards, not to blame my children – even when they’ve trailed mud over the newly-cleaned floor. My shouting is a prompt to ask myself what’s going on with me that I can’t muster up my professional calm in this moment? Often just knowing why I’m really shouting, seeing that it’s not really about my boys at all, helps me to regain perspective and stop taking whatever it is out on them.
REASONS WE MIGHT SHOUT AT OUR CHILDREN
Here are some of the main reasons I shout. What makes you shouty?
I’m tired. This is the main reason I shout. When I’m tired, I become hypersensitive and my tolerance level plummets. Something that would’ve been irritating on a normal day, like Thomas pouring my drink into his cup ‘til overflowing while I’m not looking, becomes infuriating when I’m tired.
I’m overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed by all I need to do, any added demand, such as being asked for another snack, feels like harassment.
I’m triggered. Sometimes, my boys hit a sensitive spot and my ego comes out roaring. Eg.“How dare he disrespect me!” Being disrespected hits a tender place for me. I question my worth and I spiral downwards within – and loudly without. (See my post How Our Children Raise Us for more on being triggered by our children.)
My children are doing just the thing that winds me up. Thomas has a squeal perfectly-pitched to grate on my nerves. My reaction is almost a biological response rather than a mental/emotional one. He usually squeals when being provoked by Jake. Thomas’ squeal and Jake’s aggravation are a lethal combination that sends me bananas.
I’m in a rush. You don’t need to be told that children have a completely different sense of timing to adults. (The joys of not being able to read a clock.) I hate being late and lose patience when my boys are slowing us down.
I’m preoccupied. Sometimes, there’s an issue with my boys that I haven’t taken the time to get to the bottom of because I’m in the middle of something. Perhaps I’ve called out to them to stop arguing over a toy but they actually need some help to come up with a fair way to share it. Without my guidance, the arguing gets louder and more aggressive…and so do I. Sometimes, I’ve just got to put my plans on pause, get present, and deal with the issue properly.
HIT THE RESET BUTTON
The magic is that, in any situation, we can choose again. We can hit the reset button and respond differently, without shouting. When time is short, I simply take a breath. With that breath, I imagine shedding my upset self like a snake sheds its skin, leaving only the Loving part of myself remaining. I return to the situation with her instead. Just the intention to approach the situation with Love makes a difference. (We can teach our children to do this too.) When I need more than a moment to make the switch to Love, I turn on the kettle for me and the tv for my boys, giving us all a 10-minute break to diffuse the situation. My professional calm returns and I continue – without shouting.
Yesterday, the boys and I were in the car and it was a case #1 and of #4 in combination. Having been working on this post, I was determined not to shout. Being in the car, there was no kettle or tv in sight. So, I stopped the car, told my boys I would drive again when Thomas had stopped squealing & Jake had stopped bothering him and got out. I stood quietly on the pavement until I felt calmer and was sure the kafuffle between my boys was over. It was a quiet drive home.
RECOVERING FROM OUR SHOUTING EPISODES
When I have shouted at my boys, I always apologise. When they shout, I tell them that they can express whatever they have to say but must do so respectfully. Same goes for me. Whatever the reason I’m shouting, my spiritual beliefs insist that I always treat others with love, knowing everyone is worthy of kindness and respect at all times. I only apologise when I’m ready, though, able to be sincere. (See my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
It doesn’t feel good to have been the shouting mum, it’s not how I want to be. So I also have to forgive myself. I don’t want to carry my guilt around with me, it will only sour the next moment. Having a shouty moment – or a shouty day, even – doesn’t mean we’re bad people or bad parents. It just means there’s something going on for us. It shows us that we need a little TLC of some sort – we all do sometimes.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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