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Why don't my kids listen to me?


Dear Ms. Davis.

Why don’t my kids to listen to me? It seems like I have to tell them over and over to do things. And then, when I want to find out anything and ask them questions, I don’t get much information. Help!

Frustrated Dad

Dear Dad,

You are not alone! It seems at times that we are fighting a losing battle when it comes to getting our kids to listen to us. We remind, coax, nag, lecture ... all to no avail.

Most parents, in the middle of a “nag” or a lecture have seen their child’s eyes glaze over. We know they are not listening ... but what else can we do? We also have those times when we would like to have a conversation with our child and they answer our questions about their school day, or their friends with one word answers ... “yes,” “no,” “ok,” or a shrug of the shoulders.

Effective and positive communication is one of our greatest human challenges, and it takes practice. Everything we say or don’t say communicates ... many times there is a disconnect between the words that are spoken and what is being experienced by the listener.

Non-verbal communication (what our body and attitude says) is particularly important with children. Eye contact, body position, facial expression, touch ... these things often speak louder than our words. It’s important to be on the same level as the child when communicating – sit on the floor with them, lift them up to your eye level, sit in chairs, etc.

Speak respectfully. Ask a question rather than issuing a demand ... ie. “Where does your coat go?” rather than “Hang up your coat.” This fosters self-esteem and responsibility by helping your child to explore their own solutions.

Communicate your feelings with “I” messages – these tell the child how their behavior impacts you and how you feel about it, without blame. For example “I feel scared when you run into the street because you could be hurt.” Often this can be followed with a choice of behaviors, ie “You can hold my hand while we cross, or I can carry you ... you choose.” Another example for an older child might be, “I am worried that if you spend the night at your friend’s house, you won’t get your homework done. What ideas do you have to make sure this doesn’t happen?”

Practice good listening skills. Make sure you are facing your child and looking at them when they are telling you something. Avoid jumping in to offer your opinion, suggestions, advice, etc. Use reflective listening – hearing your child’s feelings, if they have not verbalized them ... “wow, sounds like you were really disappointed” (sad, angry, excited, etc). A child who feels that his/her ideas, opinions and feelings are valued, will be more open to parents’ attempts at communication.

Be as clear as possible. For example, “I would like your clothes in the hamper and the toys put away before dinner,” is much clearer than “Clean up this mess.”

Build in time for talk….many families don’t spend much time talking with each other. Plan for this – in the car, at the dinner table, before bed.

Make time for quiet and for doing pleasurable things together ... we spend a lot of time telling kids what “not” to do ... look for ways to be with your child in a positive way.

I hope these ideas will be helpful for you in opening the door to better communication with your children.

Penny G. Davis, M.A.

Respectful Relationships Consulting


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