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Do you have trouble getting your child to listen? Perhaps you find yourself yelling more than you’d like to or feel like your child dawdles or has difficulty obeying your requests or instructions. How can parents get their children to more effectively listen?

At Kids Village, our workshop curriculum model depends on communicating in a way that inspires children to listen. This strategy doesn’t come from luck–it comes from having a team of talented teachers who through trial, error, and experience have found some reliably effective ways to help kids remember to listen.

Here are some of our secrets!

1 – Make Sure Your Child’s “Bucket” is Full

Sometimes a child will engage in testing behavior if he or she doesn’t feel connected to you. When your child’s “bucket” isn’t full, they may disregard your instructions to subconsciously ask for attention.

If you haven’t heard of the “attention bucket” before, it’s worth reading How Full Is Your Bucket for Kids by Tom Rath andMary Reckmeyer. “Filling a Bucket” is a metaphor for providing support, help, or love that raises a person’s self-esteem and helps them act more positively.

If your child isn’t listening, it may be because he or she is craving your attention but can’t comprehend a healthy way to ask for it. Take a moment to sit down with your child and ask about their day, read a book together, play a game, or work together to finish a chore. You’ll be surprised how simple connection can turn an interaction around.

2 – Be a Good Example

If you don’t show your child the courtesy of listening to them, why would they show the same courtesy to you?

It can sometimes be challenging to give our children our full attention when they talk. We sometimes fall into the habit of half-listening or “mmhmm-ing” as our child chatters away. Parents (and teachers) have a lot to do, but it’s important to remember that battling your child to try to get them to listen will take more time and effort than slowing down to listen to them in return.

When your child speaks to you, stop, make eye contact with your child, and truly listen. Use active listening phrases to show you understand and are listening to what they’re telling you.

After you take the time to listen to them, they’ll be more likely to take the time to listen to you when you speak.

3 – Use Simple Words to Jog Their Memory Instead of Lecturing

Most children that are in a good headspace (their bucket is full and they feel listened to and respected) want to please you. However, this doesn’t preclude your child from getting distracted, dawdling, or forgetting what was asked of them.

Next time you find yourself having to ask your child for a second time to do something such as shut the door or brush their teeth, try a one-word reminder instead of berating or lecturing.

Instead of: “How many times do I have to ask you to brush your teeth?”

Try this: “Teeth!”

This method doesn’t knock down your child’s self-esteem, keeping their bucket full and decreasing the likelihood of them acting out or retaliating. It also helps strengthen their thought centers around interpreting and acting on information. Lastly, it helps your child take autonomy and control over performing the task, which will give them more positive reinforcement for completing the task than being nagged or berated would.

4 – Provide Facts Instead of Commands

Children thrive on information and wither under constant commands. Instead of using commands to control your child’s actions, try providing facts and information to empower them to take the right actions. For instance:

Instead of: “Put the milk away!”

Try instead: “Milk spoils when it sits on the counter for too long.”

5 – Offer a Choice

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. How would you feel if you were shuffled around all day, always told what to do and what to say? It’s no wonder some children act out or refuse to listen. They’re trying to have some small control over their lives.

Instead of entering into a power struggle, offer a choice that gives your child some control over what happens next while ensuring one of the two options will satisfy you as well.

Instead of: “Finish your dinner or you won’t get dessert!”

Try instead: “Would you like to finish your vegetables and have a slice of cake with the rest of the family, or leave your vegetables on the plate and not get any cake?”

6 – Give Them Time to Process

If you’ve ever seen the temper tantrum of children at parks or activities when their parents tell them it’s time to leave (or have been on the receiving end of that tantrum) then this tip can help.

Instead of surprising your child with a command that it’s time to go, give them a 10- or 15-minutes warning. For some children this will be enough; for others, it can be helpful to have a countdown.

“I call my daughter over and let her know that she can play for 10 more minutes and then we have to go. When I first started this, I would countdown and call out every minute that she has 9, then 8, then 7 minutes left and so-on. Then when it’s time to go, she’s prepared and doesn’t argue. Now we’ve been doing it so long that I just call out her name and count down by holding up my fingers for how many minutes she has left. She never feels taken by surprise of feels like I’m dragging her out of the middle of a game since she’s had time to mentally prepare and wind down. Ever since we started doing that, I’ve literally never had to deal with the ‘time to go’ fight again.”

Final Thoughts

Remember, your child isn’t a robot or a pet. Your job isn’t to control his or her actions; it’s to help empower them with the confidence, knowledge, and strength to act competently on their own. This comes much more effectively through empowerment and respect than it does commands, threats, or punishments.

Next time you find your child having trouble listening, ask yourself what might be missing to cause this behavior. Are they feeling powerless or lonely? Do they not have the right information to “care” about the decision? Sometimes a simple adjustment to your words or actions can make all the difference.

Let us know!

How do you encourage your children to listen at home? Let us know in the comments below!

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