Children are an enigma to me, a puzzle. They hear everything…except when you ask them to do something. Swear one time in front of them and they repeat it for weeks at the most inopportune moments…but they still forget to say “thank you” and “please” after a gazillion reminders. They can remember every single one of the countless Pokémon characters in existence, even spouting off each one’s strengths, weaknesses, and evolutions (I’m not even sure I said that correctly)…but they can’t remember to make their bed and brush their teeth. I can’t say I ever figured out this puzzle, but I have learned a few hints to increase the chances that your children will listen to you when you give them a directive.
- First, grab their attention. Gain eye contact with your children before giving them a task. This may mean interrupting their current activity for a moment so you can obtain face-to-face, eye-to-eye recognition. Speak directly to them. You’ve seen your children do it to you. When they want to tell you something or show you something, they repeat your “name” until you turn to look at them. They tap your arm and leg and side until you look at them. They might even grab your chin and turn your face to look at them. Take a hint from your children. Grab their attention before giving them a task.
- Second, make it fun. Clown around a little bit. I remember my children’s allergist. He always found Donald Duck in my daughters’ ears and Bugs Bunny in their other ear. He found amazing characters in their eyes and throat. They couldn’t wait to see him and find out which ear Donald Duck would reside in today. They never fought his ear, nose, and throat inspections. Why? Because he added fun to it. Be creative and make your children’s chores fun. Sing while you set the table. Tell stories while you make the bed. Make dinosaur noises while you walk to school. Whatever your children love, use it to create some fun.
- Third, don’t ask, tell. When children are young they do not understand that a polite question such as “Would you please set the table?” is a directive. If you want them to set the table, make it a polite directive: “Set the table, please.” Once again, you will see this when your children interact with other children. Young children rarely say things like, “Would you please pass me that Lego when you get a chance?” They use a much more directive approach. They say, “I want that one” or “Give me the blue one.” They are not necessarily rude, just direct. They understand direct. They do not yet understand the nuances of indirect requests. So, if you want your children to do something, tell them politely but directly.
- Fourth, slow it down. Be patient. Give them a chance to respond. Children need time to process your request, give them time to do so. If you jump in too quickly, you have just given them an “out.” You have changed the focus from your directive to your impatience. They can’t focus on both. Until their preteen years, they can only focus on one thing at a time and that is generally the immediate or the one with greatest intensity. So, if you jump in with an impatient remark, they will forget the directive and focus on your impatient remark. They find it difficult to keep both in mind. Slow down, be patient, and wait. Give them a chance to respond. If they do not respond, grab their attention again and repeat the directive.
- Finally, give them appropriate choices. Let them begin to make choices from an early age. Do they want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Should we read then take a bath, take a bath before reading, or read one book before the bath and one book after the bath? Let them choose. Agree on their choice and carry it out. You might be surprised at how well they remember their choice. And, doing this increases their independence over time.
Five practices that will help your children listen well. They will still prove to be an enigma. You’ll still discover those astounding paradoxes that shock you…like their ability to make the most profound, insightful comment just before talking about the Tooth Fairy’s lack of generosity. But hey, at least they’ll listen a little better.