Getting Kids to Listen
Parents and teachers struggle to make children do the things they want them to do – keep their room clean, finish their homework on time, pay attention in class, the list is endless. Children might have their own ideas and designs on what they want to do. Thus begins an inevitable …..
The parent says: “Clean your room right now!”
Child says: “No. I don’t want to.”
Parent’s temper rises at the non-submission.
Child says: “I want to play. Can you play with me?”
Parent replies: “No. I don’t want to. You clean your room first.”
Child stamps his foot and goes out.
And that’s the point of stalemate.
Ultimately such conversations only end up creating tension in the household; creating uncomfortable feelings for both the parent and child since they don’t really want to hurt the other; creating anger and frustration which eventually leads to increasing differences between the child and the parent.
1. Say No to No
Just think of what is your normal usual reaction to almost all of your child’s 1000 requests in the day. It is ‘No’. “Can we play chess?” “No”. “Can we go the park?” “No”
Since this becomes the routine, children too learn to say “No” to all that you tell them to do. They have usually learnt it from you.
Next time, remind yourself not to say “No” to their requests and demands.
“Can we go to the park?”
“Park is a lot of fun. Let’s plan to go there on Friday evening or Saturday morning. Which of these days would you prefer?”
“Can I watch TV?”
“Sure. Finish your homework quickly and then you can watch TV for 20 minutes.”
2. Give Them Choice
As children grow and develop an identity of their own, their sense of independence and freedom increases substantially. Parents, on the other hand, fail to keep up with it and are not able to see that choice is all the child wants. In such situations the child believes he doesn’t have an option, that the decision is being forced upon him and as such will not agree to listen to what is being told.
So “Clean your room right now!” can be “Take out some time today and clean your room. We can play some game after that.”
“Wear your pyjamas” becomes “Which pyjama would you like to wear – the blue one or the red one?”
Children’s ego can be big and they do not like to back down and they do not like being bossed. Giving them a choice helps them get an ‘out’ from any situation.
“Do your homework.”
Instead of getting angry, just take a moment to calm down.
“Ok, when will you do it? You can plan out the evening the way you like. You can do it now and play till evening or you can play now and come back early to do your homework.”
I’ve tried this approach and it works most of the time. Children are smart. Given an option they will choose the smartest one.
3. Explain the Why
Providing information about why you expect them to do certain things is a great way to ensure they do the right thing.
Instead of shouting “Why have you left your shoes lying around the house again?”
You can say “If you keep your shoes lying around the house, you might trip and fall and get hurt.”
Instead of saying, “You better eat these almonds and walnuts in the morning. I don’t want to hear any fuss.”
You can say, “If you eat these almonds and walnuts every day, it will help your eyesight and brain development. They are really good for your body.”
Next time if you just say, “You want a sharp brain right, eat these walnuts. They will only help you”, you will see that the resistance is lower.
This ofcourse doesn’t work every time, but there is a much higher probability of your children listening and doing what you want to do when you explain the reason than if you just tell them what to do.
4. Use Just The Key Word
If you drone on and on about what you want the children to do, especially if it is something that has to be done everyday and for which they already know the reason.
For example, saying ‘Brush’ if you want them to brush their teeth instead of going on a tirade of “Have you brushed your teeth yet. How many times do you want me to tell you to go and brush your teeth?” They have already tuned you out after the first few words.
Or look at the dirty plate on the table and say ‘Plates’ if you want them to put the dirty plates in the sink.
The key words serve as a reminder to do what is expected out of them without making them feel ashamed or without scolding them or making them feel that they are on the receiving end in any way.
5. Set Clear Expectations Beforehand
If you tell them in the middle of a movie or any TV program that they should shut it down and do their homework, you are bound to get a lot of resistance.
What you can do however, is tell them before they start watching the TV “You can watch TV for 20 minutes and immediately after that you will do your homework.”
Tell them to set an alarm for 20 minutes. Since it is a prior agreement, they will usually shut down the TV in 20-21 minutes and start their homework after that. In time this becomes a habit, and everyday after 20 minutes of TV time, they will start doing their homework without you even telling them.
We have tried this with some children and found it to be a most effective way to develop a habit.
6. Appreciate Good Behavior
We are sometimes so used to criticizing our children that we end up criticizing even their good behavior or behavior that we expect them to do.
For example, if we have been asking them to brush their teeth first thing in the morning, and one day they do.
We might say in a sarcastic tone, “Look who has decided to brush their teeth today.”
As a result, the reaction makes them unhappy and not happy. Thus their chances of repeating that action reduces.
Instead, appreciate them for their good behavior. Making the result of the action satisfying and happy will result in a much higher probability of it being repeated.
This is one of the most important things you can do for your children. Just listen. Keep yourself from giving advice at every statement if they do not ask for it. Let them talk it out. Let them give their opinions. Children invariably start talking about their problems and if you don’t volunteer unwanted advice they will eventually find a solution as well. Only if you think they are really stuck or they are veering towards a wrong solution or if they ask you for advice – only then should you give your advice.
This is one of the most difficult things for parents to do. We tend to offer our advice as soon as we get a hint of a problem in our children’s lives. Obviously they tend to ignore it then. Hold your horses! Listen, listen and listen. By offering advice when the child is ready to accept it is the key to making them take your advice.
We have tried all these methods with children and seen great results. They are not foolproof. They do not work 100% of the time, but if you follow these, life does become a little easier than before.