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Getting your kids to listen to you and follow directions

Everyone is busy, including your kids. Your kids are learning, growing, and trying to make sense of their world every day. There are endless reasons why your kids don’t listen (which is true for you, too). You are moving fast, managing all the things around you, juggling demands, so it can get irksome when your kids don’t listen to you or do what you’ve asked so you can get on with your day. But your kids don’t set out to upset or disappoint you. They are learning and their minds are often preoccupied with things important to them.

Finding that space between your expectations and their follow-through can help make your and your kids’ life a little easier and calmer. Here are a few reminders of things you can do to increase the chance of your children listening and following through:

  1. Nurture. Things are more easily managed in the context of relationships. Parenting is about relationships, and relationships are about time. If you want your child to be a good listener, you need to model being a good listener. In our busy lives, it’s easy to focus on ‘doing’ over ‘being.’ Carving out time each day to ‘be’ with your child and listening to them share about their day, ideas, thoughts, and dreams without judgment or distraction enhances your relationship with your child. The more appreciated and connected your child feels to you, the more likely they will listen and follow through when you need them to.
  2. Attention. Being in the same room, eye contact, touching your child’s arm or shoulder, and getting down to your child’s level go a long way to getting the attention you need if you expect them to hear what you have to say to them. While it is tempting to holler up the stairs at your child to remember one thing or another as you’re trying to get out the door in the morning, it’s not the most effective or calm way to get the results you want or start your or your child’s day on the right foot. Paying attention to your child (as mentioned: eye contact, physical contact, getting down to your child’s level, etc.) means it’s less likely you’ll have to keep repeating the same thing - something both you and your child will appreciate.
  3. Be calm. Your children mirror your emotions and actions. Using a calm voice is going to keep your blood pressure down - and your children’s, too. If you’re rushing and impatient, your child will be too and will be less likely to follow through. Slow down, take a deep breath, and once you have your child’s attention, state your request calmly. Neutral and matter-of-fact tone keep emotions out, so the message is clear. A calm voice and calm behavior from you keep your child’s brain in the thinking part where they are more easily able to process information.
  4. Check in. When new teaching moments arise, make sure your child understands what you are asking them to do. Take the time to explain to them why it’s important. Ask your child to use their own words to tell you what they need to be doing. This not only lets you know they heard you, but it also helps you know they understand what is expected of them. Kids thrive in safe, secure, predictable environments. Consistency in expectations and follow-through is important if you want their learning to stick. As a bonus, it also saves all that arguing and negotiating!
  5. K.I.S.S. Keep It Super Simple. Expressing too many words quickly loses their meaning, and your kids will tune you out. Focus on what you want to see and expect rather than what you don’t. Be specific and concrete. Once your kids know a rule, value, or expectation, a single word may be all it takes to remind them of what is expected of them. If the expectation is to take their dishes to the sink after dinner, say “dishes” if they forget. Want your child to be nicer to their siblings? Remind them to use “kind” words. Teaching your children what the expected behavior is and letting them know you trust them to follow through gives them the power and the control over their actions. And when kids follow through, reinforce their behavior with a simple “thank-you.” This lets them know you appreciate what they are doing as asked and supports your relationship connection.

There are things you can do to make life for your family a little smoother. Keeping your relationship with your children strong, connecting in a calm way to explain your expectations, and focusing on simplicity and consistency in your messaging can help create calm in your home. When you are not fighting to find time to cram everything into your days and when things are more relaxed, listening is easier and following directions is less demanding for a mind that has room to accept it. How you enlist your children’s listening makes a difference in how they interact with others and how they come to see themselves as part of the family - and part of the world.

Nicole Sheldon is a registered psychologist in Alberta. She’s been working with children and families for over 25 years in various capacities. She holds a permanent teaching certificate and understands classroom functioning. She is passionate about supporting children and families in achieving success and dignity in their lives through assessment, intervention, and collaborative approaches. For more information, contact the Sheldon Psychology Group (1909, 17 Avenue SW, Calgary) at 403-618-8288, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit sheldonpsychology.com.

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