By Joe L. Freeman, LCSW.
Parents often ask how to make kids listen and follow directions, how to stop yelling and nagging, and how to teach children respect. The truth is, the way parents speak impacts children’s ability to listen. Here are seven tips to help you get kids to listen without yelling.
1. Ask for what you DO want – avoid DON’T
“Walk please,” delivered in a positive, encouraging tone of voice works better than “Stop running!” delivered in an exasperated, threatening tone. Point to what you want. You get more of what you draw attention to. This is the most positive and effective way to get kids to listen and follow the rules.
2. Describe the effect of your child’s behavior on you
Say, “I can’t understand you when you use that voice,” instead of “Stop whining!” Combine this simple description of how that voice effects you, with ignoring the tone of voice you hope to eliminate. You never want to reward undesired behavior with attention (even negative attention like nagging, reminding or coaxing), or you will get more of that negative behavior.
3. Ask a gentle question to help your child remember rules
“How do we ask?” helps your child remind himself of the rules without you nagging. Again, only respond to the request when asked nicely.
4. Help your child notice important messages
“Can you tell me what I said?” invites your child to take an active part. Notice your tone of voice with this question. Refrain from an angry or threatening, “What did I say?” Some children can get triggered into a power struggle rather than cooperation depending on your tone of voice and approach.
5. Offer a second chance
It’s nice to have another chance, even for adults. “Try again,” or “Let’s have a redo,” are very economic verbal prompt. Remember, fewer words is always best.
6. Your compassion will get kids to listen
“I know it’s hard,” is an eloquent empathy statement, which can be very encouraging. Your goal as a parent is to encourage, or put “courage in,” the child so she wants to try again. Too much correction or criticism can drain children.
7. CELEBRATE OFTEN & ENTHUSIASTICALLY
“I noticed you followed my directions the very first time. Thank you so much for listening so well!” Catch your child being good. Be warm and enthusiastic. Describe their behavior in simple positive words and maybe add a gentle touch or gesture, like a hug or high five. We call this the “Praise That Works.” This type of descriptive praise is the single most powerful way to encourage more cooperation and get kids to listen. Children who frequently display challenging behaviors need this the most. It may be hard to find their cooperative behaviors, but the effort to focus on those will improve behavior in the long run – and strengthen your connection and their self-worth at the same time.
To learn more ways to get kids to listen and and cooperate, check out our live online classes or recorded classes such as Positive Discipline for Peace At Home; Solve Challenging Behaviors: Parent-Child Teamwork; Help Your Child with ADHD or Autism to Cooperate and Connect; or EAT, PLAY, SLEEP – Help Infants and Toddlers Grow in Positive Ways.