Many parents lament that if their kids would just listen, everything would be better. Instead, children ignore us and we end up yelling and starting a fight.
“Brush your teeth or you’ll get cavities," "Hurry up or you’ll miss the school bus." Our requests are so reasonable — it’s not like we're asking them to eat crickets, or sleep on a bed of nails, so what exactly is their problem with listening to us?
For the most part, children don’t listen because they are testing limits and this is developmentally appropriate.
Think of it this way: it’s a parent’s job to set limits and boundaries and it’s a child's job to find those limits, and they do so by testing to see what they actually are. This is not a character flaw of your child; it’s precisely how they learn. So, don’t take it personally. Instead, play your proper part in the learning process.
So how do children learn? Children learn experimentally from what happens; they learn from what you actually do and not from what you say (or yell or threaten).
If you say “No jumping on the couch, I mean it — get your feet off the couch, stop jumping on the couch!” but you don’t do anything, the child learns that they can in fact jump on the couch.
You state the explicit rule, but they live by the implicit truth.
Some kids learn that you can jump on the couch, but only until mom reminds you three times and then she comes and takes you off the couch. Some kids learn the limit that it's only time to get in the car when a parent is yelling at 120 decibels.
Parents give children many compliance requests a day and less than a quarter of those are usually followed. Parents should let go of the antiquated notion that their commands should be obeyed.
“Do it because I said so” goes back to the old tradition of ruling a house with an iron fist and just doesn’t fly in this era of respectful parenting.
Let's say I wave a magic wand and your kids now listen to everything you say. Wow. It seems like a miracle. They don’t negotiate or refute or oppose you. You say "Hop" and they hop. At first it seems fantastic; the house is running more smoothly and there are no fights.
But then the cons start to appear. You child asks you incessant questions like, “Should I have toast or cereal for breakfast?” You think to yourself, “What do I care what you pick to eat?” but they can’t decide, because they don’t know what they think or feel anymore; they can only follow your instructions and complete your choices.
They have lost the ability to think for themselves; they don’t have personal opinions and they need your validation to ensure what they are doing is according to your wishes.
So our goal is to help our children learn limits and boundaries and to do this we have to do the following:
Talk less: Make what you say matter. Children who don’t listen are parent-deaf and have tuned you out due to excessive blabbing that is meaningless.
Make sure you have your child’s attention before you talk: Take the extra moment to walk over to them and speak to them face-to-face.
Include your children in helping establish the rules: If you make agreements together, children are more likely to comply if they have been included in the process.
Be sure your consequences are not punitive: Be consistent in enforcing the family agreements by using logical consequences. A logical consequence should be related to the child’s behaviour and the child should be given a chance to make a choice.
Here are some examples. You can’t just take away their iPads and cell phones for every transgression! Instead, try some of these:
“Can you play in the living room without jumping on the couch or do we need to make this room off limits?" The child continues to jump so the father calmly says, “I see you have chosen to play in another room, let me help you get there,” and then calmly escorts (or carries) the child to a different play area and puts up the baby gate to make the room off limits. "You can try again later."
“We need clean, germ-free hands for eating dinner. I’ll know you’re ready for supper when your hands are washed." Mom continues eating her own dinner and doesn’t mention it again. When they get hungry enough they will be motivated to wash up. That’s called intrinsic motivation.
“Can you keep the water in the bathtub? If the water is splashed on the floor we will have to end bath time.” If there's still more splashing, pull the plug and grab the towel.
“Laundry in the hamper will get washed. Laundry left on the floor will not.” Follow through by not doing the clothes on the floor. The child will figure out how to find something to wear for school – maybe even something dirty. That will probably be harder for you than them!
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