• Why aren’t My Kids Listening to Me?

    I believe that the general answer to “Why aren’t my kids listening to me?” is because they can. We love it when our children use their will to push through obstacles and find achievements in life, but when they aren’t aligning with our wishes as parents it can become quickly frustrating, maddening, and infuriating (depending on how worn down we are by their defiance). How do we allow our children to follow in the direction we choose without practicing our puppeteering skills like Geppetto?

    Who’s the boss:

    When your boss comes into your office with a task to complete, does your boss tell you what is expected of you or ask for your thoughts or permission? I think that the “bossy boss” can turn us off as we feel “he talks to me like a kid”, but when we think about talking to our children, are we talking to them as children?

    The first recommendation that can help our kids listen to us is TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO! Act like you have power in your household and use the power to communicate what you would like your children to do. The biggest hurdle that I see is that so many of my clients speak to their children like their children have the power to disobey. When we tell our children “could you go get your pajamas on?”, we are also telling them that they are permitted to say “NO!”

    In order to take our power and speak to our children in ways they will hear, just think about the word “command”. Telling our children “stop what you are doing and go put on your pajamas now”. My guess is if you have used this phrase before it was after several failed attempts to get the kids to dress themselves. At that point, there is a greater likelihood that there is emotional flooding and your emotions are being heard more than your words. If it eventually comes out of your mouth as a “command” anyway, why not start with it?

    Practice your aim:

    When we are speaking to our kids, many times we have 10,000 things going on in our mind, and we sometimes miss what we are asking them to do. If we take a little time to really aim at what we want them to complete, we will increase the odds of them achieving it. If we were to think “what did my words mean to the little minds of my kids?”, we might understand that things are a little more complex than we might have thought. An example of this is “Gosh, it’s such a mess in here! I want you to get up off your butt and take care of things!” A more challenging example of this is when we use passivity in the request which might sound like “I’m so overwhelmed by the mess in here. I don’t know how this doesn’t bother you.” Both of these examples show that the child is going to have to work their decoding skills to figure out what you actually want and if you’re actually wanting it from them and if you’re wanting it now.

    A well thought out aim at this would shift the example to “I would like you to stop what you are doing and put away all the items on the floor until I can roll around on the floor without anything poking me. When that’s all done you can go back to playing.” This example uses a few elements. First, it uses a well-designed aim. Second, it uses imagery which little minds love. We just conveyed not only in words what a clean floor would look like, but we allowed their imagination to create a visual of what their goal is. Both of these strategies increase the odds that you will be listened to.


    • The Laundry List – Most adults have a hard time with receiving too many directions and often need to write lists to make sure they take care of everything. Yet, when we ask our children (and their little minds) to go take their plate to the kitchen, pick up the trash in the corner, and go brush your teeth we somehow get frustrated when NONE of it gets done. Until our children show they are able to follow through on laundry lists, take it one at a time.
    • Communication Skills – I spoke to an audiologist once who said before you speak to someone, go to the room they are in, call to them to get their attention, and look at them in their eyes as you are speaking. If you use these skills, you will increase your odds of being heard. Walking away and shouting something out before you are out of earshot isn’t the way to be heard.
    • Talking to a Wall – Make sure that you are not talking to a wall when you are speaking to your children. Look for signs of comprehension that you are being heard and understood. Practice modeling active listening to your children so they can respond to you as you are practicing good communication.

    If you avoid pitfalls, you can increase the odds that your children will listen to you. If these topics do not give you some success, please consider speaking to a Family Therapist. It would be good to also rule out other issues such as hearing issues, comprehension disorders, and even ADHD.