Unfortunately there are no easy 5 step plans to make your kids listen well. But there are some tried and true habits we can employ. And they involve kids of all ages. These methods work at virtually every age, but the younger your kids are when you get started, the better they work when your kids are older. Each of these habits have demonstrated success over and over by a whole passel of parents who have gone before you. Furthermore, there are wonderful (extra) parenting perks to be had with each habit besides just getting your kids to listen. I call that “Advantage Parent.” So let’s get started.
Habit #1 Quit allowing them to interrupt. Our littles all the have the same middle name: Interrupter. If you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone else, take their hand and place it on your arm or shoulder and squeeze it. You can even wink at them for extra affirmation. But all the time you are holding their hand so they know you’ve not forgotten them. When you have an opening with the other person or a good pausing place, you can look at your little and say “Okay what was it you wanted?” The whole while you where holding their hand gently against your arm, or face or at your side. This probably won’t work the first time you do it. The key is patience, and diligence in training. If they are old enough (3 or 4), you could probably even have a conversation with them about how this works before incorporating it as a new habit. AND you can practice it at home while conversing with your spouse. The more you practice this at home, the better it works when you utilize this technique inside or outside of your home visiting with friends. I found this to be a conversation lifesaver when my girls were little. Advantage Parent: It simultaneously teaches your child to be respectful of others while also validating your child’s needs.
Habit #2 Quit threatening. Do what you said you were going to do the minute they disobey. If you say, “The next time you use the toy to hit your brother, I am taking away the toy,” then the very next time they use the toy as a weapon against their sibling, immediately take it away. Threatening does nothing but teach them not to listen. Without a doubt, the minute the offender breaks the rule, and you say “That’s it; the toy is gone,” he or she is going to explode into cries of remorse: “I’m sorry” or “I won’t do it again.” Don’t fall for that. They should’ve been so sincere the first time you gave them fair warning. Threatening just adds to the chaos. Advantage Parent: Your kids quickly learn from a “follow through” kind of parent two very important things. 1 Your plans cannot be thwarted by their drama. And 2 You are an honest person. They can trust you. Both of these things will be important when you are establishing appropriate boundaries in the teenage years.
Habit #3 Make deposits into their emotional bank accounts.(Concept borrowed from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) In moments, minutes or possibly hours apart from those necessary blocks of time devoted to instruction, discipline, and daily tasks, we must spend quality and quantity time with our child. If we only feed them, cloth them, and instruct them, but never allocate time just being with them, validating their ideas, playing games with them, going to coffee (or tea time), or reading books together, the chances of them being good listeners are very slim. It’s all about credibility. Our human nature cries out loudly “Why should I listen to someone who doesn’t care about me personally?” Advantage Parent: We build trust with our children that is reciprocal. Life is more fun. It’s exciting what we learn about our children when we share our time this way. We build up their self- confidence and self-esteem. They make better relationship choices because they know they are loved and cared for at home.
Habit #4 Be hospitable. When you invite someone over to your home or out to dinner, and your kids are invited too, they learn to listen. Because when you invite other people into the intimate spaces and places of your life, learning about those people is inevitable. And the way that happens is to ask questions and listen. Our girls learned a heap about other people’s lives, their fascinating jobs, and their spiritual journeys, all at dinner around our table. We just listened. And naturally, our guests asked us questions too. So there’s this fun exchange of information that propels and enriches the conversation. It all starts with a desire to be hospitable. It ends with our kids being better listeners. Advantage Parent: We teach our kids the value of community and hospitality. They meet new people who can have a significant and positive influence in their lives for years to come. We make life long friends. We teach our kids the power of personal versus electronic communication.
Habit #5 Model good listening skills for them. As adults, hopefully we already know how to be active listeners. In other words, we actually listen to what another person is saying to us before we draw conclusions, make judgement or offer responses. Our body language is also a huge indicator of our attention to another person’s words. If our kids see or hear us constantly at odds with their other parent, or if they see us monopolize every conversation we are in, chances are we are teaching them how to be a poor listener. Any other methods we utilize to teach them good listening skills will be null and void, if we cannot ourselves model good listening skills. Advantage Parent: Our kids learn that they are not the center of the universe. They also learn conflict resolution skills and how to bring change to a hurting and broken world.
We all want our children to listen to us. Toddlers, tweens, teens, and young adults. We want them to listen when we say “Quit using the toy to hit your brother,” and also when we say, “Don’t drink and drive.” And of course we want them to listen to us when we say “I love you.” It’s imperative that we cultivate good listening skills in our kids. In my book I talk about having “Life Saving Conversations” with your children. If we have not taught them them how to listen, they will struggle with grasping the importance of those life saving conversations. They will tune them out. The ones regarding their safety, security, relationship building, reconciling conflict, or a whole host of other important discussions that require their listening ears.
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