Most problems are best worked on by considering both sides of the same coin.
This past week I spoke with three parents whose main concerns were that their children did not listen to them. On Saturday, when I was out and about shopping and doing errands, I observed the opposite side of the coin – parents not listening to their children.
I think it’s just habit that we don’t listen to each other. In our busy lives, there’s so much distraction going on. Parents’ minds are full of to-do lists and our children are living in their own time zone, C.S.T. – Children’s Standard Time, life in the present moment.
That’s why a child is not paying attention to the fact that a parent is in a hurry to speed through the supermarket and needs her cooperation in order to be on time to pick up an older sibling from swimming – even though she was told. (she probably wasn’t listening.)
On the other hand, “Mom, look at the orange oranges all piled up. Can we buy some?” “Daddy, Daddy, I know what that sign says.” Both repeated four and five times, falling on deaf ears.
No one’s paying attention.
I think the secret is that listening is a two-way street and it takes paying attention to each other.
When we need to have our children listen, don’t yell from two rooms away. Go to your child, say his name or touch his shoulder, get his attention and tell him what you need to say. Then, try asking him, “So what does Daddy need you to do right now?” to see if that might help the communication gap along.
Keep directions short, five words or less for general exchanges like “time to brush teeth”, “soup’s on”, “time to put your toys to bed”. Be playful in your requests. Children are magical thinkers. Talking shoes, “Put me on” is appealing to children. “All aboard the sleepy time train” for a lift to bed. This may all seem a bit too fanciful for some of you. But why not have fun in these moments when things need to be accomplished. It doesn”t really take any longer and it’s a positive way to connect, as well as getting the job done.
The parents I spoke with all said “I have to yell before my child listens. I tell him five times and by then I’ve had it. I need him to listen.”
Number One rule – say it once. We have actually trained our children to ignore us by being so willing to repeat and repeat and finally REPEAT!
We need to train ourselves to ask only once and then to gently follow through with whatever it is. Act, don’t yak! If we are not able to follow through immediately, then wait to give a direction until you are.
Save shouting for extreme safety emergencies – your child is running toward the busy street or playing near the hot stove. If shouting is saved for rare occasions, your child will take notice and pay attention.
Be choosy. Think about how many directives you are giving your child. Select the most significant ones and drop the others. That alone might get your child’s attention.
Be mindful of not allowing management to be the only type of communication you have with your child and the only type of listening expected from her. So often, “get dressed, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth, put on your shoes, hurry up, let’s go, get in your car seat, don’t touch those buttons, stop kicking the seat, fill our days. Take the time each day to look your child in the eye and talk with him and listen to him about something of interest to him.
I read of a childcare teacher who would spend a few minutes visiting with each child at rest time. She called this talking time. The children knew that this was their time and no one else’s. She shared that the children would arrive in the morning,immediately inquiring, making sure, are we going to have talking time today. Some children would inform her that they had something to tell her, but always chose to save it for talking time. Of course, this teacher was willing to listen throughout the day, but these children knew for certain that when it was their turn during talking time, the teacher was really listening, only to them.
A benefit of reading out loud to children is the development of listening skills. The more children listen to stories and details, the more practice they are getting in listening. And this shared experience gives both of you a great opportunity for meaningful and fun conversational exchange.
How come everything seems to come back to parents? This was supposed to be about children not listening. Because it does – and because parenting is the very hardest job there is and we are the models our children learn from.
Tell your child often, thanks for listening. Let her hear you tell others what a good listener she is. And give yourselves a special pat on the back for listening to your child and paying attention.