How to get children to listen to you

We all have friends, family members and colleagues who say one thing and do another. We very quickly learn that their ‘word’ means nothing. Children quickly learn whether our word means anything. From a very young age, children will hear and understand the things we say. 

Then they will take notice whether our actions affirm or deny the things we say.

“Johnny, you need to eat all your dinner before you get dessert” – Dad

30 minutes later Dad wants to move on from dinner, but Johnny hasn’t finished. To keep things moving smoothly Dad decides it is simpler to just… give Johnny dessert.

Johnny is learning that dad’s word doesn’t mean anything. And will Johnny feel the importance of eating his dinner next time?

You may read this and think Oh no, that is so me, I’ve ruined it!! It’s not too late, you can still build the power of your word with your children. Just read on.

Or maybe, like me, you think That is not me at all, my word is my word! But trust me, it is impossible to ensure that our word and our actions match unless we are very deliberate about it. Take notice and read on.

Actions speak louder than words! So, when your actions match your words then your words are louder, more desirable to hear and easier to listen too. This is how you get children to listen to you.

The importance of Alternative Options

Threats, consequences, and punishments. These are 3 horrible things that every parent and educator seem terrified to admit. But, if we are honest, we all use them. And I understand that if used inappropriately, they can be detrimental to children’s development. But they are simply the ‘Alternative Option’ that we give to children if they don’t do the things that we want or need them to do.

Many of the statements that we say to children are made up of two things.

  1. The thing we want them to do or not do
  2. The ‘Alternative Option’

“Stop running or you can go to your room”

“Pick that up or I’ll put it in the bin”

“hurry up or you’ll miss out on breakfast”

I’m not going to say we need to stop doing this but the way we use an ‘Alternative Option’ is so detrimental to our word. If our word is our word, then our alternative options will always be achievable.

So, if they don’t stop running, you will ensure that they go to their bedroom. If they don’t pick it up, you will throw it in the bin. If they don’t hurry up, then they miss out on breakfast. I am not advocating for any of these Alternative Options, but if our word is our word then it is important to keep it.

Following through with the Alternative Option shows children that our word means what it means. And the more this happens the more children will learn the importance of listening to the things that we want and need.

More importantly it causes us to be deliberate about the alternative options that we choose. If you are going to follow through then your alternative option is not going to be “or ill smack you bum off” because (I’ve never tried, but) I’m sure its really hard to smack someone’s bum off. It’s also not going to be “or you’re never playing with your friends again” because no one has the power to follow through without locking their children up forever… When we follow through, then our alternative options become simpler and less intrusive but far more powerful because we actually do them.

So be mindful of the alternative options that you use. Choose them carefully and follow through every time.

Take a moment to think about your response.

That moment! When I’m cooking dinner and there’s a baby crying in the highchair, a three year old tipping out a water bottle on the carpet, a five year old screaming about their water bottle being tipped out and an eight year old next to me saying “Dad, Dad, Dad, DAD can you get me the LEGO box?!”. I know in my frustration, my response is going to be “No, I’m busy! Do something else” But after more badgering, I’m going to give in. I’ll get the box down and go back to cooking in a huff. Then two minutes later I’ll look up to 3 children playing with LEGO calmly on the mat.

This seems like a great outcome; the problem is my word is compromised. My children are learning that “No” really means “keep asking me for another 5 minutes then it’s ‘Yes’.

Even the Baby in the highchair is absorbing this. The thing I needed to do was take a moment and think about my response before I let my frustration make it for me. What is causing this unrelenting chaos? How can I find a solution? Maybe my child is presenting me with the very solution I’m searching for. How can I benefit from taking a moment to resolve this issue?

As parents and educators our responses need to be maintainable. Before you respond to your child, stop and think, can I follow through with this response? If I can’t, then change the response to a maintainable one. Stop and think, is this response beneficial for the child and for me? If its not, then change the response to a mutually beneficial one.
If I had stopped and thought when my child asked for the LEGO box I would have replied. “Yes, first let me stir this pot, then I’ll give the baby a biscuit, then ill grab the box” Everyone wins, and because I stopped to think through my reply. My word remains my word.

Now it really is a great outcome for everyone. So long as I do it.

Most of the time we don’t think this deeply when we respond to our children. In this instance it is important that we stick to what we say.

First, because it teaches children that we will follow through on what we say. And secondly, we will learn to feel the gravity of our word. If we say, “no screen time for a week,” then we need to live with children who get no screen time, for a week! We may never say it again. If we say, “Everyone will get a turn” then we realise that a 5 minute turn for 24 children is 2 hours, then 2 hours later you will know not to say “everyone will get a turn.”

Even when our response is a foolish one, it is still important to follow it through so that we learn to stop and think about our responses.

Consistency is key

Children may hear our word, but they will always act according to our actions. Matching our Word with our actions for a day or a week will not help. We need to be consistent. If children are used to consistent actions that do not match words, then it will take a fair while to instil a new consistency.

Pick one or two things that you want to start with. Maybe choose to stop and think about the things you say around morning routines. Or, come up with some achievable Alternative Options and put them into practice. Concentrate on this for a few weeks before moving onto another part of life. You could choose dinner, or bedtime routine, screen time, weekend activities, behavioural management, or any other part of life. Pick one and be consistent.

So how much value do you put on your word?

When you respect your word, your actions will tell the story. When you value your word then there is not much that is more important than ensuring that your child see’s it.

If you tell you’re child that you will play with them, then respect your word and play with them, anything you are doing right now is not as important as keeping your word. Or as important as your child.

If you say “No” then respect your word, its worth enduring the tantrum to keep your word, soon your child will respect your word too.

If you ask your child to do something and they run, then respect your word and follow up. It’s worth dropping everything to chase them if you need, to keep your word.

Build a habit of respecting your word and you will find that your children will also start to respect your word. Almost magically, you will find them listening to you. It won’t happen straight away, but if you are consistent, it will happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *