“Eat your vegetables or you’ll never have dessert again!”
“GO TO SLEEP or you’ll be sorry”
“Share that toy NOW or I’m putting it away for good”
Have you heard those phrases before? Have you said them before out of desperation, tiredness or just because otherwise you think children will just not listen?
Tips for Getting Children to Listen
It’s not unusual for parents to use phrases like that, after all, parents want to get kids to eat vegetables and get children to go to sleep, and play nice and make sure they share with other children and so on…
The thing is, speaking forcefully with threats, bribes, empty promises or lies seldom gets us any closer to “getting” children to willingly do what we hope them to do – well at least not without a whole lot of hurt feelings, resentment, struggle and disconnection.
So here are 8 ways to talk that encourage listening and cooperation:
Turn No into YES: Instead of saying “NO yelling” try instead “Let’s speak quietly” and “NO throwing!” try instead “Can you show me how to drive that truck in big circles?”
Be Inclusive: Children are capable of doing lots of things on their own, but sometimes starting together or doing things cooperatively gets the job done faster and better. I love inclusive language like “LET’s do it together” and “how can WE do this?”
Avoid Lectures: Try not to go on and on about all the reasons and how fed up you are about something “I can’t believe it…not again…how many times…” Chances are they stopped listening at the first “how many…” anyways.
Be Specific: Children are much more likely to follow through on a request if the instructions are very specific. For example instead of saying “pick up your toys” say “Can you pick up all the red legos and place them in the lego bin?”
Connect First – Ask Later: Before making a request, get close, notice what your child is doing, connect and then make your request.
When my boys are playing lego, they tend to get really immersed into it. When it’s time to shift into doing something else I try to approach them and really connect first. The other day they were rescuing prisoners and superhero’s were flying and so on…I came close to them and just sat there, listening. A minute or so later there was a pause and I used a little lego figurine to join the story “Excuse me Lego dudes, that lady behind me has an important announcement, shall we hear it all together?” Everyone laughed and listened attentively after that too!
Be open to Alternatives: Welcome an acceptable alternative when possible, for example “If you don’t want to put napkins on the table, what job will you do to help set the table?” or “Can everyone come over and pick one vegetable they will be having at dinner?” ”Would you like tomato wedges or slices?” Inviting Cooperation and ideas usually goes a long way.
Be mindful of the timing: Asking a child to finish up their veggies at grandma’s house when this is otherwise never asked at home will come as a surprise and cause possible conflict. Asking a child to put away their laundry when a friend is visiting will probably not work well. If a child is really distressed, giving directions or trying to get them to do something before they have cooled off will also likely back-fire. Being mindful of when we are asking something to be done can make or break how our request is received.
Be playful: Small children especially like it when silly things happen – teddy bears asking for help cleaning up, using games for getting dressed, toothbrushes that trap dragons and so on…the more fun and playful the better.
When we speak kindly, with the intent to connect, explain or share, our ideas become appealing and interesting and the other person can feel welcomed into the conversation, welcomed into potential solutions and ready to listen and cooperate.
Peace & Be Well,
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