You’ve asked them literally five times to pick up their laundry, or turn off the TV and put their shoes on for school, or brush their teeth before bed. But they just aren’t listening. You’re sure it’s not that they can’t hear you, because in your frustration, in every asking, you’ve increased your volume and added more words to your instructions.
Are they ignoring you?
Are they willfully being rebellious?
Why won’t they just listen the first time?
Why does it seem like the only way to get them to listen and respond is if your raise your voice or make threats of punishment?
If this situation sounds familiar, you are not alone. Every parent with young children and preschoolers experiences this frustration. But don’t worry, it doesn’t always have to be quite like this. Here we’ll discuss some simple ideas for you to change the way you talk to your preschooler, changes that should help you find success in having them listen the first time.
Routines and One Word Reminders
A common frustration with having your children listen occurs with tasks they’re expected to do daily. Even if you’ve told them multiple times that you’d like them to always brush their teeth when you ask them to get ready for bed, or to bring their dishes to the sink after they finish dinner, or put their shoes in the closet after they get home from school, you need to remember that it’s hard for young kids to remember daily tasks and listen every time.
Instead of raising you voice and repeating long commands, try finding short, one word reminders. If you say too much or go on and on every time they’re forgetful or don’t listen, they’ll lose focus or tune you out. “Teeth!” “Dishes!” or “Shoes!” could be all you need to say to remind them what their supposed to do.
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Another idea to consider: Try replacing commands with information. Rather than saying, “Put your toys away”, you can tell them, “if you leave your Lego on the floor, it’ll hurt when you step on them later.” Instead of telling them “don’t touch that” or “stop messing with everything”, try reminding them that delicate things break easily.
Instead of telling them “put your clean laundry away”, tell them that their clothes will stay nicer and will look better if they’re not left on the floor. Information, rather than commands when appropriate, won’t feel like they’re being barked orders at or that. It can even feel like your child makes their own choice to do something after you’ve provided information like this for them!
These tips are super helpful, but having patience is important too. Here’s tips for keeping your patience with your kids.
Give Them Choices
If your preschooler is refusing to eat what you’re giving them for lunch, or if they’re being stubborn about wearing a hat you’ve given them to protect them from summer sun on a sunny day, try finding a way to offer them choices. Instead of threatening that they won’t get any food at all, consider giving them options before you prepare lunch.
Even if both are something they’d refuse to eat and be stubborn about if only offered one, they’ll feel better knowing they got to make the decision and they’ll be happier to eat it. Tell your child if they don’t want to wear a hat, then they can choose to not play outside and stay indoors. Or you could let them choose a hat to wear. They’ll be more willing to listen if they feel involved in making a decision.
Tell Them Your Expectations
Instead of asking your child to turn off the TV and get a chore done, remind them at the beginning of the day that you expect certain tasks to be completed before they get to watch TV at all. Rather than telling them to put away all of their toys all over the room, tell them before playtime that you expect them to put away one set of toys before they getting another one out.
When they know your expectations beforehand, they’ll do better at listening and respond better to your reminders when they need help remembering.
Identify their Feelings
When your preschooler comes running to you, bursting with tears because of a conflict that came up with a sibling or playmate, try to listen. Don’t tell them it’s nothing to be upset about or cry over, this will could make it seem like you don’t value their feelings, even if you only said it with intentions to lighten to situation or try to comfort them. Ask them how they feel, and what happened. Ask follow up questions, repeating what they said to you back to them so they know you’re listening.
Try to have them think about possible solutions, and what they can do to make things better. Offer help when they are struggling with something a little more difficult. Not only will this help you preschooler feel like their feelings are important to you, this can be a great method for teaching them to independently manage their feelings and deal with conflict.
See more resources for Emotions for Kids
Things to Remember and Last Ideas
Raising your voice should never be the solution. Psychology Today reports that research shows that yelling has comparable harmful effects to physical punishment, such as hitting “Children whose parents are verbally aggressive also exhibit lower self-esteem, higher aggressiveness, and increased rates of depression.”(Psychology Today)
Know they probably aren’t purposefully ignoring you – if they’re busy, engaged, or distracted by something, they lack the peripheral awareness to register what else is going on around them. Make sure they really hear you, be close and make eye contact. You’ll have more of their attention. Stay calm during the entire situation. When they are rebellious, be patient and persistent.
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