Listen Up


Listen to This...

November 2007

Dear Parentworks,

I just want to know one thing - how do I make my kids listen?

- Is anyone listening?

Dear Listening,

This is one of my most frequently asked questions. I've addressed communication and temperamental styles in past articles so will share a bit of a different perspective on this issue.

This is one therapy approach; You say you want your child to listen. When was the last time you listened to yourself? Imagine that there is a tape or video recorder tracking how you interact with your child on a daily basis. (But one that only you would get to see - not the entire world through "reality" TV.) You could go to all that trouble or you could try to simply catch yourself when you're talking to your child - what's your tone like? What's the volume? How many times have you made this same request? Is it really a yes or no question that your child has an option? Frequently parents "ask" their child to do something and the child actually thinks they have a choice in the matter when they don't really i.e. "Do you want to put on your coat now and leave?" Finally, do you take yourself seriously?

Parents are generally focused on getting their child to DO something. If you find yourself feeling like a parenting broken record it's highly likely that you are being tuned out. Many parents do what I call "armchair parenting". They will call across a room to their child, "Don't do that." They're ignored..."Don't do that!" They're ignored..."I SAID don't do that". You know the routine - this continues until either the parent gets really mad and harshly punishes the child (then feels guilty for over reacting) so will then "poor baby" them and which confuses the child into feeling like they were in the right and the parent was in the wrong all along. An alternative scenario involve those times that the child stops the second the parent gets up from across the room, so the parent sits back down and then the child starts all over again and so does the parent in a pattern that ends with the yelling and the guilt and crying and poor baby. If you really think about it, we're simply teaching our child that parents can yell and over react when we're angry (but kids can't) or that our child doesn't need to listen to us until We get moving, that everyone ends up feeling pretty bad about the whole situation in the end anyway and so frequently parents just give up.

So here's the trick: Take yourself as seriously as you expect your child to take you seriously. Instead of deciding what you're going to get Them to do, decide what You are going to do. Figure out, ahead of time, how many requests you'll make (or if it's even a request at all) - some people give their kids 3 tries, some 10 but pick a number that is BEFORE you're going to feel angry. Let them know that if they don't i.e. pick up their toys in five minutes or by the number of times you're going to ask them, then You will be picking them up. But if you pick them up you're going to put them away (and I mean AWAY) and that they can have them back in a day (or whatever Reasonable time you choose). Since you're not going to be angry you won't be doing the whole over reaction thing of "I'm throwing them away" - because you won't or shouldn't since it's also disrespectful to you and them.

Know that this calm and action oriented behavior on your part will shock them. That's ok. They'll know that you mean what you say. They may even test you again to see if you're really so nervy as to not only listen to what you say yourself but that you're really going to back it up. They may even end up without a single toy in the house (or at least reachable) for awhile. But eventually they will decide that You're doing something about this so if They want their toys they need to listen.

The sooner your children learn that you mean what you say the sooner you'll get started having a more respectful relationship. Trust me, depending on how long this Hasn't been happening it will take at Least that long to rebuild this important area of your interactions. But it is worth it - for you, for them, for your relationship as you grow together and you deserve that.