Do you feel like all you do is talk and wonder if your kids actually hear you? Here are some powerful tips to get kids to listen the first time you say something!
Distracted kids. It seems like all moms struggle with getting their kids of all ages to listen to them the first time they say something.
Everyone wants to be heard. As a mom, I really want my kids to do the listening, but if I take time to connect with them I know that they just want me to listen to them too.
Why your kids don’t listen
Children have an instinct to do the opposite of what they are told. This opposition can come from a “counterwill” instinct in all humans. (The term was coined by a Viennese psychoanalyst and used by Dr. Gordon Neufeld.)
Basically, this means that humans are inclined to resist when they feel controlled (if you’ve parented a toddler, then you know exactly what this means!).
This response can offer protection in difficult situations (if your child was approached by a stranger, for example).
Thankfully children are influenced for the good by the people who care for them and the key is building up a strong connection with your child so they want to listen to you (and don’t just see you as a big boss!).
The main thing for you to remember is that you need to foster a strong, daily connection with your child to encourage him or her to listen and follow you with trust. This does not mean every time you speak, they’ll jump at the chance to listen and follow, but building a lifelong, loving connection with your child goes a long way to help.
A strong, loving connection is the key to having a relationship where your child listens openly to you.
In addition to building a strong connection with your child, here are some practical tips you can use daily to help get your kids to listen well.
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1. Make sure you have their attention first
Before talking to your kids, you need to get down to their level and look at them in the eye. This ensures that you have their attention before you speak (and that they actually hear you).
I’m so guilty of often yelling out instructions to my 2 little girls (down the hall!) without waiting to see if they are paying attention first (and whether or not they can even hear me). They may be so absorbed in their play that they won’t even be ignoring me on purpose.
2. Focus on what you want your child to do
Instead of barking out a lot of “don’ts” (Don’t run down the hall!, Don’t jump on the couch!), try stating exactly what you want them to do:
- Please walk quietly down the hall!
- Couches are for sitting. You can jump on the trampoline outside!
- Please use both hands when drinking from that cup.
3. Say it once and give a reason
Say your expectations one time and tell the reason (“Because I said so” is not a good reason – even if it feels like it!).
For example, Our house rule is that we clean up one game before getting out another. Please put this game away on the shelf.
4. Be brief
No one likes a long, drawn-out speech – especially kids!
5. Offer choices
If you have to tell them no, offer an alternative choice.
I’d love to have some ice cream, we can’t have any today but would you like to get some on Saturday or Sunday?
6. Ask your child to repeat
This not only makes sure that they heard you but that they understand what you said.
7. Give time to transition
No one likes to be interrupted and abruptly moved from one activity to another, children especially.
Give notice when you have to transition to another activity. You can use a timer. If your kids are too little to understand the concept of “5 more minutes”, give an opportunity to choose one more activity.
This comes from the PBS Daniel Tiger show (“It’s almost time to stop, so choose one more thing to do“) and we use this often, especially when at the park.
Related: Help little kids with transitions
8. Be positive, respectful and calm
Be positive! Don’t be a drill sergeant.
Be respectful! Don’t be bossy. It’s SO easy to boss little kids around and just give commands (I’m guilty!). Remember your children are little people and no one wants to be bossed around all day.
Be calm! Whatever you want for your kids, or however you want them to act – model it yourself (ask me how I know why!).
9. Use routines
- After breakfast: we brush our teeth, get dressed, and pack our backpack for school.
- After dinner: we put our dishes in the sink and start our homework.
Make a picture chart and if your child is unfocused ask them to look at the chart with a gentle reminder.
Having daily routines eliminates the need for you to give commands (you’ll probably need to give gentle reminders). Your kids will get used to the routine and it will just become a habit.
If you want your kids to listen well, you need to model active listening. Be a good example of how to listen so your kids learn this skill (as I said they pick up on everything you do – like little sponges).
11. Make it fun
Lastly, make it fun. Kids love games. My girls LOVE when I try to make things silly and fun.
Truth be told, I like to whisk through my day accomplishing my tasks without any silly nonsense, but when I lighten up, my girls show visible delight and love to join in the fun.
- whispering instructions
- having them hop to a destination (or walk like a lion, creep like a leopard)
- make a task into a game: How many blocks can we pick up in 5 minutes?
Remember everyone wants to be heard (especially your kids). Model good listening skills and build a strong, loving connection with your kids so that over time they will learn to listen to you. These powerful tips can help you to get kids to listen to you the first time.
For more in-depth explanations on how to get your kids to listen to you, check out two of my favorite books:
1.How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 by Joanna Faber and Julie King
2.How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Share any helpful tips you have to get your kids to listen!