How to get kids to listen
Creating a positive, trusting relationship with your kids is key to get kids to listen. It makes them more likely to listen to your advice and follow your rules. Good communication with children involves listening well and talking in ways that encourage your child to listen to you. It means forming a positive relationship with your child that’s focused more on praise, support, and incentives and less on negative things like yelling, criticizing, or nagging. It’s like any other skill you get better with practice.
You can create a more positive relationship by spending quality time with your child. Listen to what he/she is thinking and feeling. Show interest and concern over their problems. That helps them feel more connected with you.
It’s important to stay calm when they share, and respect differences of opinion. That helps build trust. It also gives you the chance to teach them how to problem solve. Sharing your experiences rather than lecturing helps build better communication.
You can build stronger bonds with your child by recognizing and rewarding their positive behaviors. Give them opportunities to learn new things. Tell them when they’re doing well.
It’s also a good idea to have your kids be a part of the discussion about expectations for the family. That helps create positive, open communication and keeps everyone clear on the rules.
Making sure you have good communication with your child will help you catch problems early, support positive behavior, and better monitor their life.
A positive and constructive approach is often the best way to guide your child’s behavior. This means giving your child attention when he behaves well, rather than just applying consequences when he does something you don’t like.
Here are some practical tips for putting this positive approach into action.
1. Be a role model
Use your own behavior to guide your child. Your child watches you to get clues on how to behave and what you do is often much more important than what you say. For example, if you want your child to say ‘please’, say it yourself. If you don’t want your child to raise her voice, speak quietly and gently yourself.
2. Show your child how you feel
Telling your child honestly how his behavior affects you helps him see his own feelings in yours. And if you start sentences with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to see things from your perspective. For example, ‘I’m getting upset because there is so much noise that I can’t talk on the phone’.
3. Catch your child being ‘good’
When your child is behaving in a way you like, give her some positive feedback. For example, ‘Wow, you’re playing so nicely. I really like the way you’re keeping all the blocks on the table’. This works better than waiting for the blocks to come crashing to the floor before you take notice and say, ‘Hey, stop that’.
4. Get down to your child’s level
When you get close to your child, you can tune in to what he might be feeling or thinking. Being close also helps him focus on what you’re saying about his behavior. If you’re close to your child and have his attention, you don’t need to make him look at you.
5. Listen actively
To listen actively, you can nod as your child talks, and repeat back what you think your child is feeling. For example, ‘It sounds like you feel really sad that your blocks fell down’. When you do this, it can help young children cope with tension and big emotions like frustration, which sometimes lead to unwanted behavior. It also makes them feel respected and comforted. It can even diffuse potential temper tantrums.
6. Keep promises
When you follow through on your promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. She learns that you won’t let her down when you’ve promised something nice, and she also learns not to try to change your mind when you’ve explained a consequence. So when you promise to go for a walk after your child picks up her toys, make sure you have your walking shoes handy. When you say you’ll leave the library if your child doesn’t stop running around, be prepared to leave straight away.
7. Create an environment for good behavior
The environment around your child can influence his behavior, so you can shape the environment to help your child behave well. This can be as simple as making sure your child’s space has plenty of safe, stimulating things for him to play with. Make sure that your child can’t reach things he could break or that might hurt him. Your glasses look like so much fun to play with – it’s hard for children to remember not to touch. Reduce the chance of problems by keeping breakables and valuables out of sight.
8. Choose your battles
Before you get involved in anything your child is doing – especially to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ – ask yourself if it really matters. By keeping instructions, requests and negative feedback to a minimum, you create less opportunity for conflict and bad feelings. Rules are important, but use them only when it’s really important.
9. Be firm about whining
If you give in when your child is whining for something, you can accidentally train her to whine more. ‘No’ means ‘no’, not maybe, so don’t say it unless you mean it.
10. Keep things simple and positive
If you give clear instructions in simple terms, your child will know what’s expected of him – for example, ‘Please hold my hand when we cross the road’. And positive rules are usually better than negative ones, because they guide your child’s behavior in a positive way. For example, ‘Please shut the gate’ is better than ‘Don’t leave the gate open’.
11. Give children responsibility – and consequences
As your child gets older, you can give her more responsibility for her own behavior. You can also give her the chance to experience the natural consequences of that behavior. You don’t have to be the bad guy all the time. For example, if it’s your child’s responsibility to pack for a sleepover and she forgets her favorite pillow, she’ll have to manage without it for the night.
At other times you might need to provide consequences for unacceptable or dangerous behavior. For these times, it’s best to ensure that you’ve explained the consequences and that your child has agreed to them in advance.
12. Say it once and move on
If you tell your child what to do or what not to do too often, he might end up just tuning out. If you want to give him one last chance to cooperate, remind him of the consequences for not cooperating. Then start counting to three.
13. Make your child feel important
Give your child some simple chores or things that she can do to help the family. This will make her feel important. If you can give your child lots of practice doing a chore, she’ll get better at it, feel good about doing it, and want to keep doing it. And if you give her some praise for her behavior and effort, it’ll help to build her self-esteem.
14. Prepare for challenging situations
There are times when looking after your child and doing things you need to do will be tricky. If you think about these challenging situations in advance, you can plan around your child’s needs. Give him a five-minute warning before you need him to change activities. Talk to him about why you need his cooperation. Then he’s prepared for what you expect.
15. Maintain a sense of humor
It often helps to keep daily life with children light. You can do this by using songs, humour and fun. For example, you can pretend to be the menacing tickle monster who needs the toys picked up off the floor. Humor that has you both laughing is great, but humor at your child’s expense won’t help. Young children are easily hurt by parental ‘teasing’.
How to encourage your child to listen
Children often need some help learning to listen, as well as some gentle reminders about letting other people talk. Here are some ideas to help with your child’s listening skills:
- Let your child finish talking and then respond. This sets a good example of listening for your child.
- Use language and ideas that your child will understand. It can be hard for your child to keep paying attention if he doesn’t understand what you’re talking about.
- Make any instructions and requests simple and clear to match your child’s age and ability.
- Avoid criticism and blame. If you’re angry about something your child has done, try to explain why you want her not to do it again. Appeal to her sense of empathy.
- Be a good role model. Your child learns how to communicate by watching you carefully. When you talk with your child (and others) in a respectful way, this gives a powerful message about positive communication.
How to listen when talking with your child
When your child has something important to say, or has strong feelings or a problem, it’s important for her to feel that you’re really listening. Try these tips for active listening:
- Build on what your child is telling you and show your interest by saying things like ‘Tell me more about …’, ‘Really!’ and ‘Go on …’. This sends your child the message that what he has to say is important to you.
- Watch your child’s facial expressions and body language. Listening isn’t just about hearing words, but also about trying to understand what’s behind those words.
- To let your child know you’re listening, and to make sure you’ve really understood the important messages she’s telling you, repeat back what your child has said and make lots of eye contact.
- Try not to jump in, cut your child off, or put words in his mouth – even when he says something that sounds ridiculous or wrong or is having trouble finding the words.
- Don’t rush into problem-solving. Your child might just want you to listen, and to feel that her feelings and point of view matter to someone.
- Prompt your child to tell you how he feels about things – for example, ‘It sounds like you felt left out when Felix wanted to play with those other kids at lunch’. Be prepared to get this wrong, and ask him to help you understand.
When you show your child how to be a good listener, you help her develop her listening skills too.
Good communication with children
Good communication with children is about:
- encouraging them to talk to you so they can tell you what they’re feeling and thinking
- being able to really listen and respond in a sensitive way to all kinds of things – not just nice things or good news, but also anger, embarrassment, sadness and fear
- focusing on body language and tone as well as words so you can really understand what children are saying
- taking into account what children of different ages can understand and how long they can pay attention in a conversation.
Communicating well with children improves your bond with them, and encourages them to listen to you.
Some children need a lot of encouragement and positive feedback to get talking. Others will be desperate to talk with you when you’re busy doing something else. This might mean stopping what you’re doing to listen.
Tips to improve communication with your child
You can improve your communication with your child by showing her you value her thoughts and feelings, and helping her to express them. For example:
- Set aside time for talking and listening to each other. Family meals can be a great time to do this.
- Talk about everyday things as you go through your day. If you and your child are used to having lots of communication, it can make it easier to talk when big or tricky issues come up.
- Be open to talking about all kinds of feelings, including anger, joy, frustration, fear and anxiety. This helps your child develop a ‘feelings vocabulary’. Talking about feeling angry is different from getting angry, though. Learning the difference is an important step for a child learning to communicate.
- Tune in to what your child’s body language is telling you, and try to respond to non-verbal messages too – for example, ‘You’re very quiet this afternoon. Did something happen at school?’.
- Work together to solve problems. For example, if your child likes to change his clothes several times a day, you could agree that he puts away the clothes he’s no longer wearing. And remember that you might not always be able to resolve an issue straight away, but you can come back to it later.
- Emphasize the importance of honesty by encouraging and supporting your child to tell the truth – and praising her when she does. And by being honest yourself.
Be available and willing to listen. Often you can’t predict when your child will start talking about something important to him.