Have you ever gone into your kids’ classroom, and watched in awe as 17+ little people follow the teacher’s instructions without back-talking, complying without repetition (read: nagging), threats or bribery? It’s pretty amazing how in-command teachers are of their realm, right? Want to know why? Because they don’t teach the kids that there is an option to not listening.
I often wonder how the same child who can hear you tiptoe past their bedroom door, or who can hear you slowly rip open the bag of chips two rooms away is the very child who can’t hear your simple request to put his book bag away. It really is very frustrating. You know what, though? They definitely hear you; they are just choosing not to respond… and you have taught them this behavior. I know, your immediate response is to deny, but … we all have to admit this is probably true in our family, too. Right? Unfortunately, this is a common mistake a good number of parents make: “No” doesn’t necessarily mean no. Your smart kids can read you like a book, and they know when they can get away with something, even if you’ve already claimed to deny them the pleasure.
Here’s the thing: you can un-teach them this behavior, too. Just as easily as they have learned that it’s okay to ignore your requests until the 5th time you give them, they also can learn that the first time is the only time to respond. Sounds too good to be true? Try these suggestions:
1. Be clear in your expectations. Give simple, easy to follow requests. Remember KISS? Totally applies here (we’ll sub in ‘sweetie’ instead of the more offensive ‘stupid’); keeping the requests simple will help your kids remember what you are asking them to do. Especially for younger kids, if you give them a multiple step request, they will likely forget a step or two.
2. Praise praise praise … but not for the end result. Praise for effort and for listening. Let them know you appreciate their behavior and their positive response.
3. Try really hard to not focus on negative responses. Two of my boys will immediately jump up and do what I ask, almost regardless of what the request is. The third will huff and puff and whine like his life depends on it, he’ll drag his feet like he has ice glaciers attached to his heels and he will make the biggest spectacle about just what an insurmountable tasks I have asked of him. Sounds familiar, right? Instead of getting mad, I tell the other two how much I appreciate their responses and I let the third know that I can see how hard it is for him, so I appreciate him helping me out, making no notice of his theatrics.
4. Sing it from the rooftops. Not really, but let others know what good your kids did, and do it within earshot of the do-gooders, so they can hear how great you think they are. I will often let my hubby know about good things the boys might have done during our time together, and I can see them literally blooming with each good word.
5. Do not give them the option to not respond the first time. It’s tough, I know, but do not fall into the habit of repeating yourself. Ask them to do it once, in a manner that you know they will have heard you (get their attention, on their eye level if possible, and give your request in words they understand). Don’t yell it from another room, and don’t go on and on about it. Once. If need be, if their habit of not listening has gone on quite a while, it might be helpful to sit down with them when they are in a listening mood, and have a conversation with them about how you would like to see a change in their listening behavior. No ‘you’ sentences; this is about how you feel, so use ‘I’ phrases. Let them know that there will be a change, and you expect them to comply. Tell them how things will be different (‘I will say requests once. I expect you to do what I say the first time I say it.’) and ask them what you can do to help them to remember this change. (Do they need a reminder note on the fridge where they will see it each day? Do they need a reminder hug each morning for their new behavior? ‘Good morning. I love you. Glad you slept well. Remember our new listening ways.’) And then do it.
Remember: not just your kids are changing their behavior; so are you. What do you need to remember your new behavior?
6. Do. Not. Repeat. This is your battle-cry. Do not repeat your requests. Do not nag. Do not whine. One time. And every single time they do what you ask, notice it.
Okay, I’ll be honest: it won’t always work. There will be that day when you lose it about the smallest thing they don’t respond to (probably because they were tired from their long day at school, or really couldn’t hear you; sort of like my evening tonight, when everyone is tired, I had a long day at work, and hubby is off at some event… the perfect storm.). But this retraining – both your kids to listen, and you to encourage listening rather than nagging – it does work. It is an effective way to foster positive behavior change, and it will bring a bit more calm into your interactions with your kids. Hang in there. Your kids WILL listen.