I have a feeling that every parent at some point has felt that all they do is nag or shout at their children before they seem to listen and do what they’re being asked to do. The thing is, so often the answer to the problem involves looking at our own actions and behaviours.
It’s so easy to get frustrated and think ‘my child never listens to me’, but the best way to help the situation is to stop and think about how clearly we’re actually communicating with them.
Here are some things we can do to get our children to listen, without ending up shouting.
Think before you speak
You can’t expect your children to listen to you if you randomly shout instructions to them from another room.
So before you speak make sure you’re standing close to them, or at the very least are in the same room. Then make sure that you have their attention by using their name and speak clearly while looking directly at them.
Keep it simple
When you need your child to do something, keep your instructions as simple as possible.
Young children especially can find it hard to remember 2-stage requests, so stick to asking them to do one thing at a time. So if you need your young child to put their shoes on, instead of giving a long-winded speech about it, stick with a simple “shoes on please!”.
Older children may well start to tune you out if you ramble on too much about them needing to do something. So again, keep it short and snappy when you ask them to do something.
Focus on what you DO want
This is a piece of advice my sister gave me years ago and it’s brilliant.
Children often focus on and remember the last part of what you say to them. So if you say “please don’t run off ahead of me”, what they might actually hear and focus on are the words “run off ahead of me”, and so off they’ll go.
What you need to be doing is tell them what you do want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.
So in this example you’re much better off saying “please walk nicely by my side” or “let’s skip along together”. You’re basically looking at switching from negative “don’t do that” instructions to more positive, “do this please” versions.
Put yourself in your child’s position
Again this is about slowing down a bit and thinking before asking your child to do something.
If they’re in the middle of an activity, is it really fair to expect them to stop it immediately just because you say so? How would you feel if someone came and demanded you do something, out of the blue, while you’re in the middle of doing something?
Try to give a bit of warning whenever you can that something will be happening or if they’ll need to do something.
So let them know 10 minutes before dinner is ready that they only have that much time left to play before they’ll need to stop and come to the table.
Now, this can also be applied in a way to situations like children running off in the park or messing around in the library. As parents we need to stop and put ourselves in their shoes a bit. To remember that they don’t necessarily know how to behave in these situations. So we need to talk to them in advance as much as we can, to set our expectations for how they need to behave.
Explain things rather than just give demands
Following on from the last point, we need to remember that children don’t know everything we know, and they see the world differently from us a lot of the time.
They may not understand why we’re asking them to do certain things, so it makes it easier for them to go along with it if we explain the why behind our requests.
If we want our children to tidy up their toys it’s helpful to explain to them that they might get lost or broken if they’re left out, that it makes it easier for them to find them next time they want to play if they’re put away nicely and that other people want to use the space and it’s nice to consider their needs and feelings.
Give them options
Children often feel that they have no control over what happens in their day to day lives, and sometimes saying ‘no’ and refusing to do what we ask is simply them trying to assert some control.
One way around this is to give them choices, to help them feel that they have a say in various things that happen. The key here though, is to only offer a couple of choices and make sure you’re happy with either option.
So, “put this top on, we need to go” becomes “it’s time to get dressed now, would you like to wear the red top or the yellow one?”
“Brush your teeth and put your shoes on” changes to “would you like to do your teeth first or put your shoes on first?”
You can also use options like this to give consequences to your child’s actions.
So, rather than getting frustrated when your toddler won’t listen and hold your hand while walking, you give them option of holding your hand or being carried. If they won’t put a hat on in the park then you tell them that they either wear the hat or you both leave the park. It’s their choice.
Just make sure you follow through with any consequences you talk about.
Acknowledge when they do listen
When your children do listen and cooperate with you, make a point of acknowledging it.
Give them a big smile and a hug and thank them for doing as they were asked. When behaviour is acknowledged it’s more likely to be repeated in the future.
Not all of these things will work with all children, all of the time.
But that’s true of most things when it comes to parenting in my experience!
Hopefully though with a bit of time and consistency, you’ll find something in here that works for you and your family to get your children to listen without anyone nagging or shouting.