March 17, 2012
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The following article explains how to get kids to listen without a lot of yelling and threatening. It will take more effort on your part in the beginning but will pay off quickly with your child behaving better.
Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Repeating Yourself
My recent article, How Yelling Cancels Listening, spurred a lot of comments on Circle of Moms’ Facebook Fan Page. Nicole E. wrote, “I’d have to take off my socks to count the number of times in a day I have to repeat myself… How does this work for kids who don’t listen UNLESS you yell? At the very least I have to scream their names and then talk…but even then they usually don’t listen.”
Here’s my question to Nicole and others. Is it possible that your children perceive your repetitions as warnings that will lead to an ultimatum, rather than as instructions to stop right away?
Each parent, child and family is different. That means that no one scenario I describe will address exactly what’s going on in your house, but see if this one comes close:
A child does something wrong or annoying and Dad says, “Stop it!” Then Dad goes back to reading the newspaper. The child doesn’t stop. Mom chimes in and says, “Stop it now!” Then Mom goes back to making breakfast. The child still doesn’t stop.
The parents continue saying, “Stop it!” two or three more times, adding in dashes of “I mean it!” and “I’m not kidding!” And still, the child doesn’t stop.
Then, one parent uses the child’s full name: “Anthony James!”
Anthony seems to perk up, but still continues. He only stops when he hears: “Stop. It. Right. This. Minute. Anthony. James. Or. Else!”
What’s Your “Big Change”?
Each parent has a unique way of expressing, “I’m at the end of my rope.” Your child has lived with you long enough to observe your behavior in a way that you may not be aware of. In the scenario above, the child has experienced that there will be several requests to “stop it.” His cue that Mom is almost at the end of her rope only comes when she calls out his full name. And he knows that she means business when she uses his full name and adds, “Stop it right this minute.” Essentially, he’s waiting for her to do what she’s always done before he’ll listen: pull out the “big change.”
The “change” is different in every household. It could be when you use his full name or raise your voice. It could be when you begin to yell. The “change” could be that Mom has entered the room with an angry look on her face. Or it could be the threat of losing TV, the computer, or getting a timeout. No matter what your change is, your child has been trained by you to wait for it. He won’t listen to you until he has to.
Children look at your repeated requests to “stop it” far differently than you do. They think of them as single, random comments in a series. Parents, on the other hand, consider the repeated “stop it” as an extension of one single thought.
What can be done?
What if you moved your action point to the beginning of the situation instead of keeping it at the end?
You. Do. Not. Wait.
Most parents tend not to take action until they’re at the end of their rope. You want your children to listen to you the first time, but you’ve taught them that they don’t have to listen until the end.
The way to teach a child to listen the first time you say something is to show them, consistently, that you’ll take action the minute they don’t listen. So if your “change” is to put your child in timeout, do so as your first action, not as your last resort. If it’s to speak firmly, do that right away. You. Do. Not. Wait.
It’s true you’ll have to stop what you’re doing, get up and take action. But it won’t be forever.
Changing the timing of your action will have a profound affect on your child and will most likely change things almost immediately. Your firmness stands out because it is not clouded by yelling. This is a far better way to increase listening, allows you to remain calm, and is how you go from reacting to responding.
As with all parenting advice, you’re the one who knows your child best. There is no such thing as a “one method” that fits all children and all situations. Give this a try and see if it works.
Feel free to comment and let me know how this works for you. And if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed, put that in the comments too.
Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She’s also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.