Not Listening

For good reason, we as parents are warned about the teenage years. For the purposes of this article, I’m putting you all on alert to the teenage years AND to the toddler years (for my boys it was age three)! All the ages in between apply too, but the teen years and early toddler years are truly the most difficult when it comes to getting children to follow through on what they are told.

Truth of the matter is, they won’t really listen from the moment they know that you’re actually telling them what to do. Kids have a mind of their own and begin fighting for independent at a very early age.

This behavior is normal and part of healthy development.

As a parent, I know that I felt happy to know that this behavior is normal. I also know how extremely frustrating and annoying it can be when you are attempting to get your child to do something and they pretend that you haven’t spoken a word! I’ve been there more times than I can count!

Some children choose to show their disobedience directly. You know the kid…you’ve just told them not to do something and they proceed to do it anyway. Excuse me? This is not okay, but it happens and I know all about it first hand!

My son was “that kid” until I took the control back and made my words mean something.

How did I accomplish this?  He and I worked together to put positive and negative consequences in place and stuck to it!

The key phrase is: stuck to it!

Quiet frankly, you’ve got no hope if you choose to use consequences just some of the time. You must use them all the time or not at all. Inconsistent parenting quickly results in confused kids and an increase of defiance. When this happens, parents usually then abandon any plan that they were trying and are quick to label it ineffective.

When I hear this, I laugh!

It is not the plan that is flawed! It is the parents who chose to use it incorrectly. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh? These parents didn’t listen to the importance message of being 100% consistent and their kids aren’t listening either. Oh boy, we have a problem (and it’s not with the plan)!

The Plan

Caution: In order for this plan to work to improve your child’s success rate in listening, YOU must use every aspect consistently!

Now that we have that taken care of, continue reading and decide what your household plan will look like.

During a time when all is going well and everyone is listening, take a few moments to create a plan that lays out your expectations for your children (including doing what they are told to do). An example of a such a plan can be found here.

For a custom plan or to answer any questions that you may have, please email me at I will be happy to help!

For accomplishing a task your kids can earn a point, a penny, a token, or whatever you decide to use. These tokens or points can be used to cash in for rewards and privileges. A sample list can be found here.

If the activity is not complete, there is no point earned and perhaps a loss of privilege will also be given. Whatever the consequence, the only way that this plan works is when you consistently issue consequences as soon as possible after the action (or lack of action). If they complete a chore, they earn their token or point immediately. If they don’t listen or complete their task they don’t earn their token or point.

Consistent use of positive and negative consequences will result in success!

The Catch

There is a catch to this plan. Well, its not really a catch, its more like somethings that you will need to consider.

If you are a parent who gives your kids a lot of what they want such as letting them watch TV daily, frequently going out for ice cream, and have after-dinner snacks you will want to think about eliminating these privileges to where your child has to earn them with their points from here on out.

Another option would be to have a further consequences for non-compliance such as the timeout we spoke about above.  Again, the only way that the plan will work is if you are consistent and give consequences in a timely fashion.

Keep it fresh with time limited rewards, graduations, and celebrations

So your child really wants to go to the local amusement park this summer. Clearly, there is a window of time where this can actually happen (if you live in a seasonal climate like my family does). Use this to your benefit. If your child is able to rack up 300 (or whatever you decide) points before the last weekend that the park is open, he can go. Fabulous!

Graduations and celebrations are also a very exciting time for kids. Let’s say your child has been accomplishing some of their chores for many weeks without any reminders. Have a celebration where you get down and P-A-R-T-Y! Graduate these jobs from the job chart (remove them) as you give a large sum of bonus points to your child.

Now that these chores have become automatic, there is no need to include them on the chart. If you are looking for safety net, then ad a line that rewards a small amount of points for: “Continue to complete graduated chores”. This way there is still a small incentive, but truly; your child is learning intrinsic motivation along with responsibility that requires little to no reward.

That, my friend, is life. If your child is in this situation, feel proud that they are learning to to be a mature and responsible individual.

 Believe it or Not, Toddlers and Teens are Similar 

While teenagers are meant to test boundaries so are toddlers. The difference here is that teens will not listen to you just on principle and toddlers have only a small idea of what boundaries are. So while your teenager does understand boundaries, and is trying to figure out their place within them; your toddler is trying to figure out exactly what a boundary is, and how far they can push it before mama or daddy losses their sanity. That limit is up to you.

The only real thing you can do with toddlers, is to consistently reinforce your limits. Use small timeouts and privilege restrictions,  age-appropriate rewards, and lots of praise.

With teenagers you have to tread the line a bit more safely as you show appropriate respect to your child who is approaching adulthood. There are certain things that you want them to manage on their own. At the same time, you want them to learn that they can be their own person. That’s part of growing up.

It comes down to choosing your battles. When they choose to not do their laundry, they have to deal with not having a favorite outfit clean. If they don’t do their homework, they will have consequences in school. For situations like these you can provide gentle reminders and then let nature take its course.

But what if your child is content wearing dirty clothes or is blowing off school completely?  Well, then you’ll want to intervene. Even though you are choosing your battles, you are still the parent; and there comes a time when your child’s safety, future, and their overall choices need your intervention.

Use your discretion. If it is something that you can overlook, then do so. Your teen and you will have a much better relationship if you can let the small stuff go. This shows that you are respecting them and their choices.

The important thing with kids of any age is to be consistent. (I know you are shocked to hear that, haha)

If you say you will do something or that something will happen, you have to follow through. The best way to make sure that this is possible is by reminding yourself to only say that you will do something if you are actually willing to do so.  Don’t tell your child that you will send them straight to bed for the night when they aren’t listening to you at 2pm. Clearly, they will not be going to bed that early, so didn’t even say it.

If you can’t follow through on your words, they are meaningless. Trust me, it won’t take your kids very long to figure this one out!

You also have to remember to say sorry if you are in the wrong. If you expect them to say sorry to you for being rude, then you also have to say sorry for being rude (within limits of course, since their idea of rude is going to suit them).

I can’t write it enough – be consistent.  Please, if you say you’re going to do something, good or bad, do that thing. Of course, be reasonable!

Your children needs to know that the words that are coming out of your mouth are the ones that you mean. If nothing else it sets the bar for what they can expect, especially when we are talking about toddlers and teens.

We would love nothing more than to read your comments about your toddler, teen, and/or adventures in childhood listening. Please contribute to the Behavior Corner community below.

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In Empowerment,

Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS  



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