If you find you get caught in power struggles with your kids or you repeat yourself endlessly but your kids don’t listen, these strategies are for you. Whether the kids neglect their responsibilities and you feel like you can’t avoid yelling or they don’t get ready on time, these strategies are effective and simple enough to enact in everyday life. These are practical parenting tips on how to get kids to listen.
In our family, mornings used to be marked by a blitzkrieg of power struggles.
Bright and early, my feet hit the cold main floor to discover my children’s imagination splattered everywhere. I’m talking about intricate toy scenes on the floor, markers on the breakfast table, and half-finished science experiments on the kitchen counters and tiles.
Desperately in need of coffee, I do my best to get a pot on while multitasking. Up until a few weeks ago, I would stand behind the counter unloading the dishwasher, making lunches, and barking repetitive orders.
“Get your socks on.”
“Don’t you have your socks on?”
“Where are your socks?”
By the third time I said anything, my jaw clenched and my heart rate soared. I did my best not to yell, but there were times I did.
Related reading: Stop Yelling at Your Kids Using This Simple Trick
Part of the problem is that my kids wake up at 6am-ish. School doesn’t start until 9:15. That three-hour gap facilitates a lot of time to play as well as ample time to put off listening to me.
And so we entered into power struggles over:
- Getting dressed in a timely manner,
- Cleaning up their toys,
- Getting their backpacks ready,
- Putting their shoes on, and
- Getting out the door.
I started prepping for the day the night before but that didn’t resolve the issue of getting my kids to listen. All that did was allowed me to get closer to them while repeating myself.
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How to lay the foundation to get kids to listen
Start with connection.
When I started reading, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, I found part of the solution. In her book, Dr. Laura Markham recommends spending 10 minutes each day doing a child-directed activity of their choosing. This decreases sibling rivalry and improves kids listening. Because there is so much time before school, my husband and I started asking each child what they want to do. Then, we break off to colour, do puzzles or dress Barbies uninterrupted.
Let them know your expectations and the plan.
Before we engage in a child-directed activity, my husband and I let our kids know how long it will be for and what they have to do when they’re done. Often it’s only ten minutes, but it’s still ten quality minutes before the day gets going. In general, kids listen better when they know what’s happening and when.
When children struggle with transitions empathy is key.
For example, one day my daughter didn’t want to go to school at all. Instead of telling her to get ready again and shutting down her feelings, I told her I understood. I also tried mirroring her intensity.
My six-year-old: “I hate going to school. I’m not going”
Me: “I know I wouldn’t want to go either!”
Her: “I just want to keep playing with my Moana toys and never go to school again!”
Me: “Your Moana toys are so fun and leaving them is no fun at all!”
Our exchange went back and forth like that as she made her way over to her rain pants, got her boots and jackets on and we were out the door.
Related reading: Your kids will listen if you do THIS
While all of these strategies have helped our family, I was still repeating myself way too much and my kids weren’t meeting their responsibilities until I started using this one strategy.
The surprising way to get kids to listen without repeating yourself
While breastfeeding the baby one night, I picked up my very neglected copy of How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk. I like to read one chapter, set it aside and focus on what the authors have said for a while. Then I come back to it. But I had left it too long. When discussing household chores and responsibilities, the authors suggested an unorthodox approach. Instead of telling children to clean up right away, they wrote it is more effective to ask your child when he will complete what’s required of him.
As a parent who has never done this before, I immediately thought, “Won’t that just snowball us into needless negotiations?”
Skeptical, I still decided to give it a try.
One morning, I asked my daughter, “When are you going to get dressed?”
She paused to think for a moment. “Uh… five minutes?”
“Okay,” I agree. “I’ll set the timer.”
The timer went off and much to my surprise, my strong-willed daughter went upstairs without incident.
Since that morning weeks ago, I’ve used this strategy as often as I can remember. Sometimes, I have to remind my kids, “You said you would put away your toys when you were done watching Pokemon.” Other times, one of my kids will suggest an unrealistic timeline. But in those cases, all I need to do is to say that won’t work.
I love this strategy because I’m barely repeating myself and the only time I do find us regressing back to our old ways is when I forget to enact these strategies. They have been immensely helpful for us and I hope they help you too!
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