How to Get Children to Listen
As a parent, you may often feel as if you sound like a broken record — and no matter how many times you say the same thing, your child simply isn’t listening.
Even trying to get your little one’s attention, especially during playtime or while their eyes are glued to “Paw Patrol,” can be difficult because they are still developing listening skills and sorting out the world around them. With that in mind, it’s important to understand why they may not be responding to your requests and learn about strategies that can help.
Since how you communicate with your child matters (whether they display good or bad behavior), we’re sharing our tips for gentle parenting and why it can serve as a tool for mastering how to get children to listen.
Use a positive tone
Many adults don’t realize how children retain information during their early years is heavily influenced by how their parents speak with them. As you talk to your children, it’s important to pay attention to what you say and how it’s said. There are positive ways to talk to your child, even when it’s time to have a difficult conversation. It can be difficult to view your communication style objectively, but it’s important to try putting yourself in your child’s tiny shoes. For example, if you were to watch yourself on video, would you be satisfied with the way you spoke to your little one? Or would you want to handle it differently? By being self-aware, you can avoid slipping into an authoritarian style of parenting that causes your child to emotionally shut down (and no longer listen to what you’re saying). To help your child hold onto your words and make an effort to listen, you should aim to be patient, supportive, and loving. This also helps them learn how to communicate kindly to others.
The same goes for adults. Consider if you are more willing to listen to others if they have a critical tone versus a calm, supportive one. Talking down to someone rarely gets good results in any situation. Regardless if your child misbehaves or if you have a disagreement, using a gentle voice (even if it’s firm) will go a long way. In the end, remembering the positive ways to talk to your child will allow your parent-child conversations to be more productive.
Treat them with respect
Kids are simply little humans newly absorbing the world around them, and — even though you are the parent and your children should listen to you — you should still treat them the way you would like to be treated. The Golden Rule holds significant value when learning how to get your children to listen because it’s a foundational practice for gentle parenting. For example, if you’re talking on the phone and your child interrupts you, explain that they’ll have your full attention in a few minutes instead of yelling at them to “Be quiet.” Speaking with an inside voice will accomplish more than speaking in a harsh tone. In fact, it’s proven that yelling can be as harmful as an aggressive discipline. Instead, use words like “Please” and “Thank you.” Additionally, make an effort to ask them to partner with you on an action rather than instructing them to do it. Choosing to address them in the form of a question can also encourage cooperation. This can be done by swapping demands like “Put on your coat” with requests that can begin discussions and invite them to actively participate, like “Should we put on a coat so we’re not cold outside?” By modeling respect and kindness for them at a young age, your child will also learn to be courteous towards others.
Your little one’s brain is still developing, which means they haven’t quite figured out the best way to react to situations they encounter. A child will always be a child and their world is significantly different from an adult’s. You can learn how to get your children to listen by first acknowledging their feelings. Take a moment to stop and empathize with your child, by showing them what matters to them matters to you too. For instance, if your little one is sad about leaving their favorite toy at daycare, they will probably throw a tantrum (without considering your ears or a better way to solve the problem). It’s best to avoid telling them to be quiet and instead recognize that you understand why they feel sad (and remind yourself their behavior is appropriate for their age). Then, explore their reactions further to better understand the reason behind them. Let’s say Sally is sad because she left her favorite toy at the childcare center — and she wanted to play with it tonight. First, acknowledge and empathize by saying, “I understand you’re sad, and know how that feels.” Then, reason by saying, “But we can’t go back for your toy today because the center is closed, so you will be reunited with your toy tomorrow.” In turn, they will be more likely to listen to you in the future with any issues they have.
Additionally, getting children to listen requires teaching them to be empathetic by communicating how their actions affect others. There is a difference between saying “Stop being mean to your brother” and “I don’t think your brother likes it when you act that way with him. It hurts his feelings.” Rather than scolding them for the way they acted, give your tot a choice to right their wrongs so they realize it’s possible to correct them. Since mistakes don’t define who people are, it’s important they are taught actions can be changed. They will also learn that talking down to someone is never appropriate behavior (because you modeled a different approach). Giving your little one an opportunity to shape their behavior on their own instead of telling them what they should do is more effective and they will ultimately listen to you more.
To prevent your tot from being distracted during a conversation, it’s helpful for them to receive the message by asking for it to be repeated back to you. This technique is great for active listening which will not only confirm they heard you, but it also makes the message easier to remember. Before you drive to the grocery store, after you ask your little one to buckle their seat belt, affirm the action by saying, “We buckle our seat belts so we’re safe.” Then, ask them if they heard what you said and to repeat the sentence back to you. Make sure you’re patient with them if they take a while to speak . After hearing themselves repeat it, the phrase they voiced can eventually play a part in their routine based on their memory of it. As a result of becoming better active listeners, they can apply the skill while engaging with others and in different settings.
While it’s important to be positive, respectful, empathetic and practice repetition, it’s also necessary to set boundaries. Your child will have an easier time listening to, and following, rules if they are clear and consistently reinforced. Rules can include sticking to the same early bedtime and limiting unhealthy food in the house. But with your clear boundaries and rules, you still want to apply what you’ve learned about treating kids with respect, and offer an explanation as to why (for example) healthy foods help them have strong and healthy bodies. Parenting will always require you to draw the line somewhere, but it should be in a way that’s not demanding. Not only will setting boundaries help your child feel safe, but they will also clearly understand your expectations (making your kid more willing to listen).
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