It was bed-time, and because cleaning toys had taken longer then expected, it was already quite late. We were in his bedroom and my oldest son had a car in his hand as I asked him to put I down so he could change.
I was getting impatient. Correction, I was impatient already and the boy didn’t move.
It is bed-time!
It is late!
I want to get downstairs and write a blog post!
I just want the child to listen!
I inhaled to give a reprimand.
Immediately, because the boy hadn’t moved immediately.
When I remembered something I’d someone say to me about a year ago: Kids take a few seconds to start taking action.
How the overwhelmed mom can create calm, by being…well, more calm
Let’s get rid of some frustration of getting your child to listen by tackling it at the source. I have some simple tricks that will make your hackles stay down!
Because, let’s face it, the fact that our kids don’t listen to us eats us from the inside out. Whenever you say something and they just continue with whatever already occupied them…just close your eyes and imagine it for a moment…feel how your belly tightens, how your jaw sets. Is your breath getting shallow yet?
Imagine getting rid of that frustration, how much more calm would you be? How much less of an overwhelmed mom? Imagine the space in your head you’d get!
Kids need a few seconds
Actually, I suspect most adults do too, but adults tend to look at you when you talk to them and usually they’re facial expressions tell you that you’ve been heard. Adults usually also give a response, a verbal one I mean, about whether they mean to comply or not.
Kids don’t do that. They need a few seconds to do something, but you don’t necessarily get any useful feedback in that time and the something that they decide to do might just as well be to ignore the request. Not helpful if you are trying to get your child to listen.
But, just for fun, let’s assume they’re going to listen. Let’s go back to my son in his room to see what that would look like from inside his head:
He looked at me, processed what I was saying…okay, I have a car in my hand? Okay, I need to put it down. Where? Oh, there’s my table, let’s put it there…
Now, if I had started yelling at him at the end of my inhalation I would have cut off his response.
I have to let this sink in for a moment: it would have appeared that my son wasn’t listening, because I never gave him the chance to do so.
Overwhelmed mom is a hurried mom
We’re in such a hurry nowadays! If I look at my mom and her generation, they take so much time to listen to the kids. They sit down, they stop what they’re doing, and they give the kids their full attention. Exactly what we tend to be short on.
My mom know she has my son’s attention, because she’s stopped and gone down to where he is. She’s right in front of him and she gives him her full attention. Admittedly, this gives my son far more opportunity to hear what she’s really saying. It’s a extra time and as such a chance for a child to listen.
Test this. You know your child best, how long do they normally take to act on your request? Count to three or four in your head, just count the seconds. Or ten seconds if you believe that’s justified. If you start to feel silly, then that’s probably long enough (if your child starts looking at you funny, then that’s too long).
Tips to get your child to listen
These tips help, for the following reasons:
- They make for clear instructions;
- They slow you down, making you more calm;
- They are at your child’s pace.
1. Make sure you’re in the picture and heard
Asking them to do something from across the room seldom works well. Especially if it’s something they’re not interested in doing (who wants to put on their PJs when you could be playing?). If you want your child to listen, then go over to your child and kneel down in front of them. When you have their attention, tell them what you want.
2. Were you asking? Or telling them?
This is something I often catch myself doing. I’ll say something like, shall we go upstairs? When in fact I mean, we’re going upstairs now. It may help your child to listen if you announce what you want them to do about 5 minutes in advance. That way the idea can sink in and settle nicely into their little heads.
Whenever I catch myself getting this wrong and asking a question instead of stating what I want the boys to do, I say: “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say shall we go upstairs? Mommy meant, we’re going upstairs now.”
Just don’t get angry if they choose the option you don’t like when you’re the one giving them that option in the first place.
3. Be precise in your request
Were you exact in what you asked them to do? Remember that kids don’t have our cultural context to rely on. If we tell them to “act normal” they have no idea what that means. For my sons, walking through the supermarket pretending to be monsters (while making the appropriate noises) is perfectly normal. Similarly “get your act together” is too vague for kids. Instead, “put the car on the table” or “put your PJs on” is a clear instruction.
4. One task at a time
Don’t give the whole to-do list at once. Kids have enough trouble deciding that going to bed is a good idea and should be complied with. Having to keep a list of tasks in their heads is often just too much when they’re very young. Let them tackle just one thing at a time.
“Put the car down.” Check.
“Put your PJs on.” Somewhat checked.
“Put the pants on too.”
4. Phrase it positively
Instead of “don’t yell!” Try something like “talk softly.” And instead of “stop monkeying around!” You could try “go into the bathroom.”
The idea behind this is that, first of all, it stops you from saying negative things all day. Secondly, kids often don’t hear the “not” or “don’t”. They do hear the “monkeying” and then do some more of that. Because that’s what you asked, right?
5. Were you effective?
If they don’t listen, always ask yourself if you effectively communicated to them.
Did you go over to them? Did you kneel down and get their attention? Was there any consequence that you mentioned to them? And if so, is it something your kids know you’ll be prepared to follow through on.
6. Follow through on consequences
Finally, if they didn’t listen, even though you were perfectly calm and patient. Make sure you follow through on the consequence you stated. If you feel like you made a mistake there (and you don’t want to lock your kid in the basement for the night after all) then go over to your child and state a consequence you are willing to follow through on. And then do it.
If you find that by now you are having trouble staying calm, then just stop for a moment and simply breath until you find yourself calming down.
Trust me, you do have that time. The kids will still be monkeying around two minutes from now. Once they’re in a spot where they’re not listening and having a ball with it, you have plenty of time to get yourself together first and then cut in on their fun.