My Kids Listen to Their Teachers, Their Friends, Their Grandma - Why Don't They Listen to Me?

We hear this question almost more than any other. Children who apparently have healthy, able ears are not listening to their parents.

What is wrong with this generation?

While it may be argued that children of this generation are short on attention span, there really isn’t anything wrong with the kids. The answer is simple: When children don’t listen it is because we teach them not to listen.

Yes, that’s right – they are just doing as they’ve been taught. They know that if they don’t listen, Mom or Dad will repeat, nag, beg, suggest, wish, should and finally let them know when they really do have to pay attention. We may tell them it’s time to listen with a change in tone, volume, or blood pressure. Perhaps they know it’s time when their ears are ringing or when we pick them up and move them, feeling embarrassed or disrespected. It tends to happen the same way every time.

At Parenting Power, we call this a Family Habit. The same scenario plays out over and over again. In the end, we are disappointed that they don’t listen and that they don’t respect us enough to do what we ask. Each time, we hope and pray that this will be the day they gain respect for us and finally do as they are told the first time. Each time, our hopes are dashed and we remember the time when we listened to our parents’ every word. (Is our hindsight slightly more perfect than the reality was?)
The only behaviour we can change is our own. SO how do we use this simple explanation to change our behaviour to get our kids to listen?

The strategy is pretty basic and comes in two parts:

1. Skip all the chatter and get to the “make them listen” tone right away
2. Be beside them when you do step 1.
And now for the details. Skipping the chatter can be tough when we are stuck in the old habit. There is a way to shake the old patterns. When you hear that little voice in your head or gut hoping that your kids will make the right choice this time and come bounding down to dinner with a lilt in their steps and smiles on their faces – realize that it isn’t going to happen without a change in your behaviour. Stop talking and move to Step 2.

Often, when we want our children to listen, we are talking to them from another room in the house, possibly on another floor or at least out of grabbing range. This means that they might not hear us the first or second time, or they can at least pretend to not hear us. If they can hear us but we can’t touch them, they may play the “make me” game where they suddenly decide a game of chase would be more fun than complying.

It does take a bit more work and forethought to be in close proximity but it won’t be this way forever and the compliance will make it worth it. When we are right beside them, we can be sure they are listening. A gentle rub of the elbow or tap on the shoulder can also draw their attention. We can look in the eyes and even ask them to repeat what we need of them. If they don’t listen, we can make it happen because we are right there.
Some examples might be:

“Buddy, it’s time for dinner; are you going to turn of the TV or am I?”

“Jane, the brick needs to go on the floor – do you need my help or can you do it yourself?”

Being close to our kids minimizes the need to yell and because we can follow through easily, knowing that they are “choosing to have our help” if they don’t comply, we don’t end up asking many times in a row. They learn that we mean what we say when we say it the first time.

As with any change in discipline, you won’t get it right 100% of the time and neither will they. However, when you take the time to teach a new habit, it pays off and eventually you will be able to call from another room. When the whole thing starts to slip; and it will from time to time; go back to the re-teaching and remember it all comes down to three little words…our mantra…ACT DON’T YAK!