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Children Not Listening

“I have a problem with my child as she does not listen and will not follow instructions. Anything I say or request she does the opposite. I do shout at her but do not like doing this. I need a solution so I can deal with the problem calmly.”

“Wondering why my oldest 4-year-old son doesn’t listen at times. My husband’s first reaction is to yell but my son just laughs in his face. When it’s just me the kids behave better than when he is around.”

Two queries from parents who are off on the wrong foot but don’t like what they are stepping in. And there are two issues here: 1) Why don’t children listen/obey? and 2) Why do children listen to one parent better than they listen to the other?

One reason children don’t listen is that parents today don’t feel in-charge and don’t act in charge. Many parents believe they can reason with young children and convince them to obey. Some parents actually expect preschoolers to listen and remember what they have been told. Some parents are not on the same page when it comes to discipline. Sometimes one parent is better at it than the other.

If you are having trouble because your children do not listen and do not obey you, here are some remedial parenting tips:

  • You are your child’s parent and you are the one in charge. This is a parenting mantra, repeat it to yourself as often as necessary.
  • Pick your battles. Stand your ground when it is important, ignore things that are not important.
  • Do not yell, scream, shout, threaten, beg, exaggerate (“If you don’t turn down the TV, I’ll throw it out the window!”) or any other ineffective parental attempts to get their kid to listen. None of them work.
  • Use the EFFECTIVE COMMAND. 1) Be close to the child. 2) Start with the child’s name. 3) Make a clear, concise statement. 4) Have a commanding expression on your face. 5) Use a commanding tone of voice–but keep the volume down. 6) Omit the word “please”–a command is not a request like “Please pass the salt.” 7) Omit warnings–hitting is NEVER allowed. 8) Do not give the child a choice–it’s a RULE. If the Effective Command works and your child does the desired behavior or stops doing the undesired behavior, you’re done and you have avoided lots of wear and tear on your vocal cords. If it didn’t work, use an appropriate consequence EVERY TIME.
  • Avoid the common parental speech flaw of saying something too many times. It’s easy to get in the habit of saying what we want over and over again. It starts out “Put away the toys.” But the kids don’t listen so we repeat it several times usually in a crescendo getting both louder and more frantic and ending with a grand finale: “I told you a hundred times to put away the toys!” Some of us follow this with, “I’ll do it myself–YOU NEVER DO ANYTHING I SAY!” Of course the kids never do what you say, they tune you out until the volume or exasperation levels are high enough to get their attention. Why? Because they know your routine. They know you will say it many, many times before they have to act.
  • Don’t use too many words. A rule or command must be brief.
  • Don’t try to reason with a child when you are supposed to be making a child obey you. Later you can talk about why rules are important and involve the kids in making them. But right now the child must stop breaking his brother’s favorite toy.
  • Help the parent who is not listened to. Start with showing that person this ParenTip.

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