When you need a child to listen and they won’t, it gets very frustrating. Fortunately, there are a ton of techniques geared towards how to get children to listen to you that you can easily use to get their attention, get their answers or agreement, and get them to follow through with what you are saying to them.
The biggest thing to remember is that getting mad is not going to work for how to get children to listen to you. As frustrating as it is, children are either listening to you and not responding for a particular reason, or they are not hearing you at all. Getting upset and yelling at them is not going to help you get the results you want. It may scare them a little on occasion, but for the most part it is just going to encourage them to keep behaving the way they are – or worse, the way you are!
Following are 11 techniques that you may have heard before and some that you may not have. Try each one. Use what works. And, life will become so much easier.
1. Listen To Them
As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in lecturing your children and trying to make them listen, but it’s not as easy to take the time to really listen to your children and what they are saying. There are a couple of problems with this.
First, when you are always talking and trying to get children to hear your message, they start to tune you out. Your important words become more like ‘blah, blah, blah’.
Second, children are more willing to listen to you AFTER you listen to them. When you ask them what they are trying to say or accomplish, and then give them the time to answer and let you know, they will be more willing to find out what you have to say about what they said and partake in a real conversation about something. They will feel more important and they will follow through with the intention of the conversation more willingly.
2. Ask Questions Instead Of Giving Commands
Children will respond to questions much better than they will respond to commands. Commands are telling them what to do, which is not something they want to tune into. But, questions are usually followed by getting something they want, going somewhere new, or ensuring you understand how they really feel about a situation, all of which is important to them.
Pay attention to how much you tell them to do something. For instance, you may always tell them to wash their hands before they eat and soon that command becomes a nuisance to them and they start to tune it out. So, instead of telling them, ask them what they need to do before they eat. They will listen, consider it, let you know that they need to wash their hands, and be more willing to follow through on what you want.
The bottom line is that when you ask questions, children will be listening to see if there is something they really want to hear in the question. In other words, they will fully pay attention.
3. Change Your Tone
Just as children start to tune out commands, they can also start to tune out your voice. Your voice becomes a constant in their life, and they become less fixated on it and more fixated on things like the TV, their games, or even their imaginary friend’s voice! It’s a part of being a human, as we all tend to tune out the noises that we hear often, like a grandfather clock’s chimes or the train going by in the middle of the night. This is why children will often hear other people asking them something, but not you.
As an example, I have a daycare that is in operation right across from me. One of the staff members always screams at the top of her lungs. I can hear her even if I walk about 3 blocks away. The kids don’t listen to her at all, despite the fact that she is screaming at them. Yet, they will listen to some of the other staff members who are sometimes quiet and sometimes loud.
If you want your children to listen to you, then they need to hear you first! So, mix up your tone a bit. Talk louder, talk softer, and use different pitches in your voice as you talk. This will feel weird at first, because we tend to get into the habit of talking the same way all the time, especially when we are frustrated or stressed. However, the more you become conscious of how mixing up your tone helps children hear you better, the more you will be able to habitually mix it up.
4. Create Some Interruption Words
Another way to solve the problem of kids tuning you out is to create some interruption words that catch their attention. The bigger and better these words are, the more likely you are to get their full attention.
For instance, try picking a word from a different language. If the children speak English, then pick a Spanish word to interrupt their thoughts and catch their attention. Any word that sounds different than English will work. For instance, supermarket is ‘supermercado’ in Spanish, and if you say it correctly – with your best Spanish accent, children will look at you instantly trying to figure out what you said.
The trick with this technique on how to get children to listen to you is that you have to quickly tell them what you want before they get back into whatever train of thought they were in before you said the interruption word. Therefore, as soon as you say ‘supermaercado’ and they turn and look, then say “That is Spanish for supermarket, and can you please come to the table now?” They won’t know what hit them, but they will more than likely come to the table!
5. Say Thank You After Your Request (And Mean It!)
If you want to get to their subconscious, then add a thank you at the end of your requests. We say thank you when we are appreciative of something that others do. You probably already say thank you after they finish something you want them to do, but adding it after your request can have a really big impact on their subconscious. It will get them doing something without really realizing why they are doing it. That’s because ‘thank you’ sends the message that they are being appreciated for what they are supposed to do, and they will feel instantly better about doing what they need to do with that sense of appreciation already inside of them.
You don’t want to say ‘thank you’ in an emotional or sarcastic way, though. Doing that negates the true meaning of the words ‘thank you’, and children pick up on that and start to associate the words with a negative emotion. You want to actually be appreciate of what they are going to do in order to convey a positive and grateful message.
6. Get Down To Their Level
If nothing else is working, remember that often time’s children can be so resistant or so immersed in their own world that getting down to their level can really help you get their attention. Moreover, sometimes we ask children to do stuff from another room, and it becomes harder for them to pay attention and understand our message. When you can drop what you are doing for a moment, go over to them and get down to their level, you have a much better chance of getting into their awareness and having them respond to you in a favorable way.
7. Get Conformation Before Moving On
If you ask a child to do something, then make sure you get a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ before you move on to doing something else. You can do this simply by waiting for them to say yes or no, and then – if you get no response, asking them to please say yes to you, which they will likely respond to with a ‘yesssss’.
The simple act of saying ‘yes’ will motivate a child to do what they agreed to do, just like the act of saying ‘no’ will motivate them to NOT do what they need to do. Saying yes is our way of telling our mind that we now have to start taking action on whatever we said yes to. It will motivate the child and get their body moving, even if they still feel a little resistance inside of their mind.
8. Get Clear On Consequences
Children should know what the consequences are of not listening to you. If they are not clear on the consequences, then they will be more likely to shrug off your request, argue with you, or just say yes for the sake of getting you to stop bugging them.
Children need to know that there will be consequences for not listening to you. They need to know that their negative choices are going to affect them in a negative way.
One of the best consequences that works in most situations is a time out. Children don’t like to be in time out. It’s frustrating for them to sit with nothing to do, and it is a great motivator to help them start behaving in a way that you expect.
However, you may want to develop certain standard consequences for common things. For instance, not getting ready to go out means that they will not get to participate in some aspect that they would enjoy while out, such as listening to music or stopping at the park.
Once they understand the consequences, you merely have to give a warning to send the message that they are about to receive whatever consequence you have set out for them. That will usually be enough to get them into action.
9. Use Their Name
Kids respond to their name. It is usually the one thing that they will hear even if they are totally zoned out in some activity or show. They may not show you that they hear their name, but they do.
As human’s we are built with a Reticular Activating System (RAS) where we always stay tuned into certain things that mean something to us, such as our name. So, using their name is a great way to get their attention and get them to listen to what you want. It may not get them to follow through with what you want, but you can be sure that they heard what you were saying to them.
10. Turn It Into A Game
Children love to play! If you can make your request into a game, then chances are your children will be more than willing to partake. This includes the conversation and the actions that follow.
For instance, you could play the ‘what if’ game. For instance, tell your child that if they put their shoes on and get ready to go out, then you are going to go for a drive to the store, see all the people who are out of their house for the day, and pick up food so that you can have a great supper tonight. Then, you can say, “What if you got your shoes on now?” They will respond with all the things that are going to happen, and putting on their shoes will feel more like a part of the game than a chore.
And, of course, when you play games, you make everything more fun in your house. Brushing teeth can be a time to dance silly. Cleaning up toys can be a time to use their imagination and pretend they are on an important mission to make everything clean! Use your imagination and see what resonates with children as fun.
There’s no harm in having fun while doing things that need to be done. Fun is the meaning of life when you are a kid, and even as adults, we would all be lucky to have that kind of fun!
11. Use The “When…Then” Method
This is opposite of giving consequences and it can work beautifully. For instance, “When you clean up your toys, then we will read a book.” If you let children know that they need to listen to you, but when they have finished doing what you want they will be rewarded with something they want, that is the ultimate motivator to get them moving.
Keep in mind the ‘then’ part doesn’t need to be something huge or unexpected. You can simply offer up something that would logically come next for them in the day that they enjoy. For instance if you normally go the park in the afternoon, you can say, “When you clean up your room, then we can go to the park.”