I have not met a parent or teacher who doesn’t appreciate reminders as to how to get children to listen to them. Most Parents complain that their child doesn’t listen and follow directions. Children not listening really seems to be the number one frustration that parents and educators experience, and it can leave us feeling helpless and powerless. Children, as we all do, have thousands of other things they would rather tune into, and listening to instructions is not often on the top of their list, and we all know that telling our children to listen over and over or, asking them why they don’t listen, doesn’t work. So, what does? In the following article, we offer some solutions for you on how to deal with a child that doesn’t listen or how do you discipline a child who won t listen?
So How to Get Your Child to Listen to You. The following 6 Step Method for achieving co-operation and getting your children to listen to you, is useful when you are pretty sure your child is not going to respond to what you tell them to do or to stop doing, as you would like. In other words, when they are in the habit of doing the opposite of what you ask! It is a communication method to assist you in getting back in charge, to show your kids that you mean what you say and that they do need to follow your instructions even if it is not easy for them. Children are not like robots, so even when you set standards and use consequences, they will not always co-operate immediately.
A lot of people describe those times when children aren’t listening to them, for example, when you find yourself repeating instructions to them over and over as similar to a dance. A well-choreographed, but dysfunctional dance. It often goes like this: You give the instruction, and the child refuses, you repeat the instruction louder and louder each time until you get to the somehow mutually agreed decibel level when the child responds to you. This exact situation is usually repeated day after day, week after week. Such is the dance. This method will break that routine.
The 6 Step Method is especially useful to use when children are tired and irritable, and it helps you communicate the message – I am in charge, you are safe and secure.
This method is very much about marketing, and Coca-Cola has proven to be excellent at that. The following analogy really helped me when I first heard it, so I am using it again here for you.
6 Things to Do When Your Child Doesn’t Listen to You
Now, for the six steps, When your child won’t listen:
1. Stop what you are doing, stand near the child, and look at him/ her.
Just like in advertising, you have to get the client’s attention.
- Children might be distracted by things far more interesting than your instruction, Or
- They might not have the skills or the self-control to change their behavior, especially spirited and perceptive kids who pick up every stimulation around them, Or
- They might be thinking it is just easier or more fun to misbehave.
Giving your message priority, by stopping your activity and going to them, is far more effective at getting their attention than calling from across the room.
Some people might argue that their children should know to follow instructions without having to stop and go to them. I think that is absolutely true, but if they are not doing that, we have to re-train them to get into that habit, and we have to start somewhere.
E.g. When ‘Sally’ is jumping on the couch ……… again ………. and ‘calling’ for her to stop from the other room just doesn’t work, it is far more effective for you to take the time to go to her. It sends the message that it is your message that is most important to tune in to.
Like in advertising – advertisers put it out there; you usually can’t help but look.
The strength of this step is in the silence. Often, when we are in ‘the dance’, we tend to rush in with the instruction. This is what your child is most probably used to, and your words just become white noise. This communication, depending on your tone of voice and body language, can send the message that you know you’re on the back foot and that you know your message will probably fall on deaf ears.
Waiting, in silence, just for a second or two, is warrior-like and strong. It says, “I am in charge here; you need to listen to what I have to say!”
3. Give the instruction-simply, clearly and only once
Coca Cola doesn’t say, we think you’ll like Coca Cola, it was developed in Germany, it is black and it’s fizzy, it was developed by scientists for medicinal purposes etc. They say, “Coca Cola is the best drink; buy it now!” Teaching, or filling in the ‘why’ is for later when everyone is calm and not misbehaving.
Parent giving the instruction clearly is about telling the child what they want them to do. We often tell our children what we don’t want them to do, which is most of the time too abstract for a child who is misbehaving. For example, whatever you do now, do not think of a pink elephant. So.… Did you think of a pink elephant? Did you try and change its colour? Did you try and change the type of animal? Probably, but all the time, what you are thinking about is the thing you were asked not to, AND you’re not even misbehaving!
Children change their behavior more easily through replacement, not deletion. It is too much for us to expect them to just stop behavior without giving them something to replace it with.
E.g. Instead of, “stop jumping on the couch”, say, “Sally, feet on the floor, bottom on the couch. Thank-you.”
You’ve got only a few seconds – say the headline.
VERY IMPORTANT: Say thank-you at the end of the instruction, not please or ‘O.K?’ It is polite and sends the message that you expect it to happen. It stops you from raising the pitch of your voice at the end of your sentence, which changes your clear directive into a question. Kids are clever if you ask them a question – they know they have the right to answer either way!
Giving instructions once is about being more assertive and in charge. Repeating yourself actually puts the child in charge. It tells them that you have got nothing else but to keep repeating yourself.
4. Ask your child to repeat the instruction back to you
This acts like an advert jingle, and they get it in their heads. Also, it actually puts the responsibility of taking a new action back on to the child. By repeating the instruction, they agree.
This is also a step that you can use to stop yourself from repeating the instruction. Put it back on to them, by asking, “What did I tell you to do?” to prompt them if necessary. If you absolutely cannot refrain from repeating the instruction, at least tell the child how many times you are going to repeat it. For instance, you could say, “I will tell you once, I will wait, then I’ll tell you one more time if I need to and then you need to repeat to me what you have to do.” If they can’t say it, get them to show you. Say, “Show me what you need to do.”
It is important to use your discretion. If the child has already started following the instruction, it is redundant to get them to tell you what they have to do!
5. Walk away
This shows that you trust them and expect them to do what you say. Standing over them sends the message that you don’t really expect them to follow the instruction and you are on standby for an argument or to tell them again because you know you will need to. Don’t go too far, though, because you need to be around for the next step.
6. Always Encourage, notice every step in the right direction, no matter how small.
It just doesn’t seem right to encourage in the face of misbehavior, does it? What we are doing here is communicating that we expect the child to follow instructions and that it is totally worth their while to do it, because we also notice the positive behaviors they are showing us.
Sometimes children misbehave because they know they will get more attention than if they stopped and did the right thing. If somebody is noticing positive behavior, it is not so necessary to keep on being “naughty”. It, therefore, becomes very motivating to make the appropriate change.
e.g. Well done Sally, even though you haven’t sat down yet, you have stopped jumping on the couch.
P.S. Sally probably had every intention of continuing to jump. Now that she has been noticed and encouraged, it is just that much harder to continue jumping.
Here is an example of the 6 Step Method for Achieving Co-operation:
You call Jack in to sit at the table for dinner. It is something Jack is not in the habit of doing easily.
- Go up to Jack, get to his eye level, either by crouching down, or if he is really young, bring him up to your level.
- Wait, notice the power of a small silence!
- Say, “Jack, it is time to come to the dinner table now, thank you.”
- Say, “Tell me what I want you to do”
Jack says, ‘I have to come to the dinner table.’ And if he doesn’t say, ‘Show me what you have to do.”
- Start heading back to the dinner table.
- Say, “Well done! You are on your way! Or, “I can see you’re not on your way yet, but I know you know what to do because you told me. See you at the table! “
What happens if the child doesn’t do as you ask?
It is rare for children not to follow instructions for long when you do each step. Usually, what causes children to remain defiant is the parent’s annoyance, nagging, blaming or lecturing because it often actually feeds into the cause of the misbehavior, which may be looking for a sense of power, attention or in response to a perceived hurt. When instead, you stay calm, which you will find is much easier to do when you have some new steps to follow, your child will usually want to co-operate.
One suggestion when you start using this method – plan ahead to make sure you have the time to follow through with all 6 steps. When your child sees that you really do follow through, they will co-operate more and more quickly.
Remember, this method represents a new way of communicating your message. It is designed to reduce the need for the discipline, but if after a number of tries, you are still not getting results, and you believe that you have been following the steps pretty accurately, think about whether a standard is missing. Is there a consequence that needs to be imposed? Discuss the incident later when emotions have cooled and decided together what the positive and negative consequences should be.
Note: Using this method causes a change in body language and the tone of voice that you are likely to use. Remember that words are only 10% of our communication and children learn 70% of their language by the time they are five, so it stands to reason that they are very adept at reading your body language and tone of voice. The 6 Step Method gives you a plan of action, allowing you to respond more calmly, instead of thinking ‘here we go again’ and automatically gearing up for the dance again. The change makes a huge difference!
What you can do now
1. If you haven’t already, choose a behavior that you know is repeatedly happening.
2. Practice. Remember not to worry if you forget a couple of the steps at first. I’m sure you’ll get another chance!
3. If it doesn’t work, check that you are including all of the steps. Also, are you being warrior-likee, assertive and in charge? Or is your body language sending the message that you don’t believe that they will do as you ask? In that case, they won’t disappoint!
4. Remember to say thank-you instead of please at the end of your instructions.
5. If it still doesn’t work, think about whether there might be a skill missing. Do you need to set a standard with consequences?
6. If it works for a while and then they cotton on to what you are doing, don’t be afraid to be upfront. Say, “Yes I have changed how I give instructions and now I know that you can follow them well. Isn’t that great!
Ask them how things have been better for them since they have been doing what has been asked of them? Keep it positive. Let them know that you expect it to continue.
I hope that you get some good results as you practice the 6 Step Method. Following is a little summary that you could use to help you remember the steps.