Kids not listening? Only ask twice

Feeling ignored by your kids?  Many parents unintentionally “teach” their kids to ignore them by first being patient while repeating themselves again and again, and then either dropping the issue, or yelling.  To teach your kids to listen to you, you must work to create in them the habit of paying attention to what you say.   Part of creating this habit is only asking twice. 

Why?  Because when you ask again and again, and then either give up and do it yourself, or resort to yelling, you are inadvertently teaching your kids that you can be ignored until you either give up (you didn’t really mean it) or you yell (now you mean it).

To teach your kids to listen to you, you must first be sure that they really hear you when you ask them to do (or not do) something.  Shouting across the house or up the stairs does not count.  For really young kids, you will likely need to get down right in front of them and look them in the eye.  A friendly touch or other positive physical connection is also helpful.  (For older kids, aim for a minimum of eye contact and/or an acknowledgement that they heard you.)

Then, ask them once and wait to see what happens.  If they follow through, great;  you’re done.  If not, then ask again, and this time, add the following to your request:

a) Tell them why you are asking—give them a reason to go with the request.  This can help kids see our reasoning and show them we are not being arbitrary (more on good reasons here).

b) Tell them what will happen if they don’t listen.  For example:  “We’re leaving the park in 5 minutes, and if you don’t come with me when I tell you it’s time to go, then we won’t come back to the park tomorrow after school.”  I call this fair warning of consequences.

Fair warning is critical because if children know in advance what the consequences are for breaking a rule or ignoring a request, then they are making a choice about their behavior:  whether they are going to follow the rule, or break the rule and bear the consequences.  There are no surprises.  Fair warning emphasizes the related principle that behavior is a choice.  (More on how to use consequences the right way).

After you’ve repeated the request, and added your reasoning and a fair warning of consequences, wait again to see what they will do.  If they don’t do what you’ve asked, and it was a reasonable request, the next step is to follow through on the consequences you previewed for them.  This last step, if necessary, is essential, since it will show your kids that you mean what you say.  Consistency is key.  

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