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Kids don't listen? Try these tips so they will

happy child and parent

Why is it that whenever you’re trying to have a private conversation without the kids listening in, they suddenly develop supersonic hearing and involve themselves in your conversation? Yet, when you want to get their attention and talk to them, they pretend that they don’t even know you!

There could be a number of reasons why your child doesn’t listen, and it depends on the situation – you may be telling them off, asking them to do something or giving them some important information, for instance.

It also depends on the age of your child. A 2-year-old will obviously have a shorter attention span than a 6 or 7-year-old, but it can still be a challenge, no matter what their age.

Children don’t have a lot of control or power when it comes to making decisions. Choosing not to listen is their way asserting their power because it’s one of the few decisions they have control over.

We’ve put together some top tips on when to talk to children, how to talk, what to say and what to avoid. Take a look…

When to talk

When children are doing something, they tend to put their all into it and focus all the attention on doing that activity. They haven’t yet learnt to multitask effectively, so don’t try and talk to them while they’re immersed in something.

Instead, wait until they’ve finished doing what they’re doing, or get their attention first before going into the detail of what you want to talk to them about.

Don’t just start talking, as they may not realise you’re actually talking to them. Refer to them by their name and ensure you get an acknowledgement before you begin speaking.

How to talk

A good way to get your child to listen to you is to drop down to their level and make eye contact. If you stand over them, neither of you will be able to read each other’s expressions. Looking them in the eye will verify that they see and hear you, which will strengthen communication. It also reinforces the fact that you’re not talking down to them or barking orders, you’re actually talking with them.

Actions often speak louder than words for children. So, gestures like this can have a positive impact on a child. If appropriate, you could also give them a cuddle, put a hand on their shoulder or stroke their head to provide comfort.

As we’ve already mentioned, children don’t have a very long attention span, so keep things short. Stick to the points of what you want to say and don’t go off on a tangent.

If you think you may be losing them, it’s a good idea to check they’ve understood what you’ve said and that they’re still actually listening. You could ask them “Does that make sense?” or “Do you understand?” And, if you think they may have stopped listening, ask them to repeat what you just said back to you.

It's also important to give them a chance to talk – to share how they’re feeling and discuss what may be on their mind. After all, if you want them to be a good listener, you need to lead by example and demonstrate your listening skills.

What to say

It might sound obvious but keep it simple when talking to kids. Don’t use long, fancy words. Use vocabulary that you know they’ll understand.

Children often want to be in control, so a top tip if you want to get them to do something like get dressed or get ready for dinner, is to give them choices so they feel like they’re making their own decisions and are empowered. Give them different options to choose from when you’re getting them dressed or ask if they want peas or sweetcorn with their dinner. This will help them to feel that they have some control.

If you’ve asked them to do something like tidy their room and they haven’t done it, don’t get angry and jump in with reprimanding. Try saying “What’s your plan for tidying your room?” This is empowering because it gives your child an opportunity to quickly come up with a plan to save face and avoid conflict.

If they’re upset, be empathetic. Rather than telling them not to get upset, use phrases like “I know how you must be feeling”. Children have trouble expressing their feelings but it’s important as a parent to try and understand what’s going on in their heads. You could ask them how they feel and why they feel that way, but don’t push it if they’re not forthcoming. The best thing to do is reassure them that you’re there if they want to talk.

Things to avoid

As much as they may infuriate the hell out of you and test your patience, it’s important to stay calm and avoid raising your voice as much as possible. If they’re yelling, let them get their frustrations out and don’t try and talk over them. Just be patient.

Try to avoid saying “no” as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you should agree to their demands, but just saying “no” can be very dismissive. If “no” is your go-to answer every time, you can’t really blame them for not listening. Instead, try saying “I don’t think so” or “That’s not a good idea”. Alternatively, try compromising. If they want ice cream for breakfast, you could suggest you go for ice cream after school or at the weekend instead. This means you’re not giving a direct “no” but are offering a compromise.

Similarly, when you say “Don’t do that”, it can have a negative impact. So, instead, tell them what to do rather than what not to do in the form of an instruction. For instance, instead of saying “Don’t leave your crayons over the floor”, say “Please tidy your crayons away”. And if they do it, always remember to reward them with words or actions to make them feel good!

It’s normal for children to go through phases of not listening. However, if you’re worried about your child and their ability to listen, speak to your doctor as there could easily be something else going on.

Parenting is hard and getting kids to listen can feel like just another thing to battle with, however once you find some techniques that work for you and your family, life really could get simpler and easier and if you feel good, chances are they will feel good too!


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