How do we get our children to listen to us?

It's important to communicate with them meaningfully

By Kavita Srinivasan

Published: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 3:58 PM

We have all been there. Repeating the same request a thousand times to no response. It is a struggle as we juggle our lives, catering to work, to ourselves, to our homes and most of all, to our children. “Put on your shoes”; “Have a bath”; “Brush your teeth” … the requests are banal and essential to survival and yet, getting anything done is impossible. So, we yell: “If you do not eat, the policeman will come”; “If you do not put on your shoes I am leaving without you.” We have all been there, as we resort to threats and fear to get the simplest of things done, not because we are ‘bad’ parents but because we had to. The day is busy, time is running short and asking nicely never works.

Here is the thing about threats and fear; they work. Doing anything out of fear, however, leaves a lasting and subtle impact on our children’s nervous systems. Anything they do in life thereafter is out of fear: fear of lack, fear of abandonment and fear of failure. And the thing about doing things out of fear is that what your children end up doing never comes from a place of authenticity; what they do comes from a place of never being enough, never having enough and doing it so those who love them will not stop doing so. The threats and fear work in the short run but in life, they do not. They debilitate, they incapacitate.

So, what can we do? How do we get even the smallest of things done? The answer is simple, and difficult: If you want your children to listen to you, ask yourself, when did you last listen to them? When did you last connect with them about their interests? Their likes and dislikes? When did you last spend time with them without telling them what to do? Without correcting them, without lecturing them, without instructing them. Our children absorb our behaviours, not what we TELL them. By listening to them, we show them what listening looks like, we teach them a skill through action, not words. Our children are not defiant or difficult; they simply do not have the skills because they have not been modeled to them. What would this look like?

Example 1: Your child is playing a game you do not understand.

Mum: Oooh you look like you are having a lot of fun. Can you tell me what you are doing?

Now, when your child rambles about their game, make eye contact, nod, listen without interruption. And then, ask them a question like, “What does that car do again? I know you have already told me, but I missed that. Can you repeat so I understand it?”

You are modeling active listening.

This takes time, it takes effort, it takes energy. And yet, all it takes is 10 minutes a day. Spend 10 minutes a day actively listening to your child. And you will notice a subtle shift in their attention spans. They will, instead of tuning you out, starting tuning into you. Watch your tone as you speak. Are you lecturing or are you asking?

Redirect the attention to their body and their intrinsic motivation: “Is your tummy telling you it is hungry?”

Give them freedom whilst maintaining a boundary: “We decide what is on the menu and you decide how much you eat.”

And then, if they are hungry, let there be natural consequences. If they are hungry, hold the boundary and say, “I know you are hungry (empathy). The kitchen is closed (boundary). Would you like eggs or pancakes tomorrow for breakfast? (giving them control).”

When they learn natural consequences, they learn a skill for life.

Notice, there are no threats. There is no fear. There are lessons and skills that last for life.

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