Have you caught yourself saying this in reference to your children? Let’s explore why that might be!
How many times did you ask your child to do something? If your answer was more than twice this is problem number one! A parent once shared with me that they had to ask their 2 year old child to stop pulling the dog’s tail multiple times and they were frustrated that the child wouldn’t listen to them! I asked them what they did about it and they looked at me and said “Well, I asked them to stop!”
SO…how do I get them to listen to me?!?
Tip #1: Tell, don’t ask! If you are asking your child to stop, you are essentially leaving the door open for them to think “Why, no mom and dad, I don’t want to stop pulling the doggie’s tail! But thanks for asking!” Rather, tell your child what you want them to do. “Susie, we pet the dog gently on it’s back” or “Stop pulling the dog’s tail.” (and then be prepared to follow through and redirect the child away from the dog if they continue to be aggressive with the animal.)
Tip #2: Proximity: It would also have been more effective for the parent (in this example with a 2 year old)to get up off the couch, walk over to the child and show them how to interact with their pet by gently petting the dog using hand over hand guidance. You can use your voice to reflect gentleness and praise desired interactions. If your child does not respond to you the first time, briefly stop what you are doing, walk over to them and get their full attention by having them look at you. Then give them the instructions again.
Tip #3: Repetition: Have them repeat back to what you just requested of them to check for understanding.
Tip#4: Know your child and their developmental expectations: If you are giving a 3 step directive for a 2 year old i.e.: “Get your coat, your shoes, sit on the steps and I’ll be right there to help you” chances are they might get one of the directives correct but most likely not all three. If necessary, break instructions down into one step at a time to increase the chance that your child can be successful in meeting your requests. It will help you feel less frustrated and improve on your child’s self esteem and confidence!
Tip #5: Praise: We are so quick to scold when a child does something wrong but how often do you miss an opportunity to catch your child doing something right? Often times, because “good” behavior is what is expected, we gloss over when they are doing something positive. Find moments throughout the day to sprinkle in some positives so that when you do need to correct your child, there is a healthy balance. If a child constantly feels like they can’t do anything right, they are going to eventually react with a negative behavior of some sort. Think about it…if you have a boss, friend, or partner who is constantly on you for something you did, doesn’t that start to wear on you? Don’t you like when sometime tells you that you’re doing a great job? Kids are no different than us in this regard!
Remember these tips next time you find yourself saying to your child with exasperation “Why don’t you listen to me?” See if perhaps you may have been able to do something different to change the outcome and give some of these ideas a try! More often than not, children desire to please their parents and shifting the way we give directions can often yield a better outcome for all!
Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP
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