The other evening, dinner was approaching. I poked my head out of the kitchen and asked ever so cheerfully for my children to put away their books and toys and start getting ready for dinner. “Uhm…uhm..” Was the general answer but I saw no real action. My request was…ignored.
When children don’t listen (and by listen we usually mean cooperate or comply) it can be a button pushing moment. In that moment, when a nice request is ignored or worse even, met with some serious eye rolling, it can be extra hard to respond calmly and kindly.
Three Steps To Encourage Children To Listen
1. Stay Calm & Confident
When children don’t listen, being calm and confident can take extra effort, but really it is the key to getting kids to listen. While we may want to do more yelling and demanding, children just don’t respond well to yelling. If we raise our voices we invite power struggles, back talk and more resistance. If we stay calm, our children learn to trust our guidance.
2. Connect First
Having a request ignored can be a big trigger for power struggles, yelling and conflicts. This approach to first connect, actively encourages cooperation. It also models much better communication skills for our children.
Is it all that bad to cheerfully (or at times, not so cheerfully) make a request from the kitchen? No, it isn’t. But relying on this “across the rooms” communication doesn’t help children transition very well. What’s more, if your child yelled for you across the room with a request, would your first instinct be to respond or to ask them to “stop yelling”?
Connecting first might sound like:
“Hi there, so, how is that book going, you seem to be really into it?”
“Hey, wow, can I know the story here with all these elephants and crocodiles?”
Such questions opens the door for listening to our children for a moment. And when children feel like we are listening to them, they are much more likely to give us the same kind of attention.
3. Make Kind & Clear Requests
After a moment of connection, the last step for encouraging better listening is to make a very clear request that is also kind.
“Get ready for dinner” “Get ready for bed” “Do all homework” “Clean up your stuff” “Hurry up already”
Can all be a bit unclear. Even if there is a very specific routine that the children are already used to. Children respond much better to kind & clear requests. Kindness can come in the form of flexibility and choices. You can be Clear in the way you make your request very specific, age appropriate and actionable.
So break down requests into kind, clear, actionable items.
“It’s time to wash hands. (Clear) Let’s meet in the kitchen when you finished washing hands.” (Kind) For a young child you can even add “I can’t wait to guess what soap you used!”
“It’s time for pajamas and brushing teeth. (Clear) You can pick which you do first!” (Kind)
“It’s time to clean up. Let’s place all the blocks in this basket…..Now, let’s put the books on the shelf” (Kind and Clear)
“For homework, which assignment are you starting with? Math or Writing? I’m in livingroom reading if you have questions.” (Kind and Clear)
Suggested Reading:Twelve Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools for Raising Cooperative Children
Why do these three steps together encourage more listening?
When we take the time to connect first, we are helping children not only feel validated, we are modeling respectful ways to communicate and how to show interest in others. Then by making a clear and kind request, we open the door for cooperation.
When children ignore our requests all the time, or only “listen after a yelling fit” it can be a sign a child needs more connection, validation, choice, encouragement and loving guidance. Sometimes it can also just be a reflection of how we have been talking to them.
“Come on, I already asked like three times!! Pick up those toys!! Seriously, how many times!!!” Sound familiar?
I know first hand that It’s impossible to get it right all the time…communication might get rushed, requests may get loud. But…give these three steps a try. It can really make a difference. When I feel rushed, and then intentionally create calmer, connected interactions, I see my children begin doing the same. That evening when I was ignored, I walked over, chatted with everyone for less than a minute, and then made my request in a kind and clear way. Ignoring was over and I didn’t need to yell!
To encourage children to listen more, and stop yelling out “how many times” “OMG didn’t I ask you already,” and “seriously, didn’t I call for you like forever ago?” I encourage you to look at times when you need to make a request from your child as an invitation for more connection with your child. Stay calm. Connect. Then Request.
If you are still getting resistance and no “listening”? Try validating “I hear you wish you didn’t have to…” plus offer to work together “Let’s get started together, I’ll do…. and you can…”
Yelling and demanding is not effective or polite, so the best way to help our children to communicate in a better way, is to show them how, with loving, calm & kind words.
Peace & Be Well,
How To Ensure an Awesome Relationship with Your Child by Amanda at Dirt & Boogers
Five Things to Do After you Have Yelled at your Kids by Nicole Schwarz at Imperfect Families
The Day I Realized I was Bullying my Kids (Getting out of The Yelling Cycle) by Alissa Marquess at Creative with Kids
Hi Adrienne, Thanks for linking to my article on yelling. I really like your point here in connecting first. I’ve always been an avid reader – as a child it’s not like I didn’t want to be a helpful person, but also I was really into whatever I was reading. It was a lot easier to let go of the book and participate in whatever the family was doing when my parents could give me a moment to become present with them, maybe ask about the book too, instead of just snapping at me.
I’m working on this with my own kids..sometimes it’s VERY hard not to be impatient, but over all adding the connection piece is what builds the strongest relationships.
All my best,
Thanks so much for sharing that. I totally agree that it can be hard at times to stay patient long enough to connect first. I love how you put that “become present with them” that is exactly what I find helps children transition from their own “stuff” to the requests that are coming from parents.
Thanks again for stopping by. So very happy to link to your article, you have so much helpful information for parents.
Peace & Be Well,
You hit the nail on the head again. I find that when I take the time to actually connect and to be clear in my instructions, that I get such a better response from my children. I do struggle at times with the calm and confident part. I think I’m able to do it most of the time, but it can be hard when I’m overwhelmed and stressed. Hey, I’m a work in progress and there is no such thing as perfection 🙂
I adore your blog and insight, and am also an avid reader. Thank you so much for recommending one of my posts to your readers. I really appreciate it.
Hi I am a mother of five and my three year old son does not listen. He has major temper tantrums and throws things. He bangs his head on the ground and hits himself when he is mad. I have read your articicles and I am hoping someone some where can help give me advice to control my child.
Ariadne, Thank you for the great reminders and information in this post. It is so easy to lose your intentions to be mindful and present in the midst of family chaos and your reminders to slow down and meet children where they are are important, not just for the children, but for the continued well-being of parents as well. I thought your wisdom was important to pass on, so shared your post with my readers in this post: https://amoreconsciouslife.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/conscious-flexibility/ (with a link – I hope that is okay!). Thank you!
Thank you so much for your kind feedback! Yes, I agree stress and overwhelm can totally get in the way of calm responses, my three give me many opportunities to practice (fail) and keep practicing. I am so very happy to share your post, thank you for all that you do to help parents!!
So simple and so true. Thank you for the reminder to be calm, self-controlled and kind in my response to my kids. As a rushed mother, I know that I have yelled too many times as a last effort. And it never worked. It only made me frustrated at my lack of self-control. BTW, these 3 steps work for improving communication between adults too! 🙂
So true what you say that these three steps work for improving communication between adults. I really do think that we all prefer to have a moment of connection with someone before engaging in a request. Thanks so much for sharing that. And for honestly sharing that yelling never works – here is to hoping the three steps will!! Wishing you well on your parenting journey.
Yes, slowing down as you said can really be so very helpful (hard to do, but oh so helpful!) Thank you so much for sharing with your readers, very appreciated! I’m following your blog and I look forward to reading more on your site.
You sound concerned with your son, I wonder if you could speak to your pediatrician or find a local parent educator or family counselor to give you some one on one support? Tantrums at age three are pretty normal, even big angry feelings that lead to throwing and such, stepping in and stopping that can help a lot. It would be stepping in to stop his behavior, and allowing him space to feel his feelings (without hurting himself or others) but having some one on one support can be really helpful at times, even if it’s just to put your mind at ease. You can find more on tantrums here. Since you have five kids and this seems new, or unusual to you, trust your instincts, reach out for support, it can only help you all. If you have more questions please do let me know. Wishing you all the best.
Hi Ariadne! This was a great read and you hit the nail on the head. I work with children with behavioral difficulties and the toughest one for the families and parents that I work with is making the requests clear and concise. I often times have to slow them down from what they are doing and remind them that while what you are asking them to do makes sense in your head, to a child you are all over the place! You don’t want to set your kiddo up for failure so give them an opportunity to be successful by making it clear with great direction. Positive praise for good behaviors lead to more good behaviors! This was a great article thanks so much! I have a blog with parenting tips as well, much of my focus being on parenting children with Autism but of course everything can be generalized! Would love for you to check it out if you have time! http://parentinginmotion.com. I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future! Smiles, Shaina 🙂
Thank you so much for your feedback. I agree with you, setting children up to succeed with clear and specific requests goes a long way! I look forward to reading more on your site. Thanks again and wishing you well.
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[…] Encouraging children to listen. […]
I tried the three steps with my grandson and it worked! Thank you Ariadne!
This was a great article, thanks so much for the reminder said clearly and kindly! I definitely get much different results when I am able to connect with my 4-year old. Also I notice that when I can be 100% “present” in the moment (and let go all the other 300 things I have to accomplish in that moment) I certainly connect better, but also I am calmer with more patience that takes both of us to have a much better outcome. I think we start to yell when we think that we are about to loose the control of the situation. Well if defeats the purpose each and every time, doesn’t it?
Fantastic, it worked first time & I enjoyed our interaction so much more. Thank you!
That is wonderful, thank you for sharing your experience Caroline.
I’ve only just discovered your blog and look forward to reading more of your posts. This one grabbed my attention as I have a 19 month old and a 6 week old. My eldest daughter is amazing with her new brother and a very sweet little girl, but she’s going through the early toddler years. Stopping to look at everything she sees, dawdling (read ignoring my requests!) when I say it’s time to eat/change nappy/get dressed/put on shoes. Given I now have both kids to look after it can be quite tough to remain positive and connected, especially if safety is a concern (like holding hands to cross the car park or hold hands to walk down stairs – especially when I also have my newborn strapped to me in a sling!) Most of the time, distraction works well but there are times when it doesn’t and I get annoyed (especially if baby is crying for food) and just scoop her up to do x/y/z.
Your post has made me realise that it’s often in these early stages of toddlerhood when we get frustrated and a pattern starts to emerge. You’ve really made me think about how I need to slow down, even if baby is crying for 30 seconds, to make my toddler feel heard before rushing her onto the next task. Then she may be more willing to cooperate.
Any thoughts on this are most welcome, and I’ll let you know how we get on by adopting your approach.
P.s my husband is also rubbish at listening. When I tell him dinner’s ready and he’s still watching something on YouTube I’ll try this with him too LOL!