Recently I asked a group of moms, “How do you get your child to listen to you?”
Some replied, “Give consequences till he listens,” and others, “Be willing to leave if she doesn’t listen.” Those things do work, but most of the time a parent has to add a reaction to the request in order for it to work.
Hanan Y. wants to know, “Seriously, how many times do you have to say, ‘Please stop,’ before you are pushed to the point of screaming at them?”
There are many ways to help parents increase listening. However, unless a parent is clear about the intent behind her wish to be heard, no tip will work for very long.
Knowing What Your Goal Is
In order to be effective when you ask your child to listen to you, ask yourself what your goal is. Is your goal to be heard, or is it to be listened to? There is a difference.
When you want to be “heard,” your main focus is on producing words to express your feelings so “you feel heard.”
When you want to be heard, you’re not really aware, and sometimes don’t care, how the other person is impacted by what you’re saying. In other words, when you want to be “heard,” you are focused on you.
When your goal is to get someone to do as you ask, or to “listen” to you, you unconsciously look for clues to tell you if your message is getting through. In other words, your focus is on the other person.
Here are four tips to increase listening. (This works well when used with adults, too.)
1. Give Your Child Time to Switch Focus
When a person is deeply focused and concentrating on what they’re doing, whether it’s playing, crying, whining, fixing the car, reading, or making dinner, they aren’t able to immediately listen to you.
DO observe what the other person is doing before speaking. Adults and children need a moment or two to switch from one side of the brain to the other so they can give you their undivided attention. Waiting a moment before speaking also teaches your child how you’d like them to interrupt you, too.
What if it’s an emergency? When your habit is to wait before speaking or respectfully ask, “Is now a good time?” then if you ever really need their full attention during an emergency, the alarming and jarring sound of your voice causes them to listen immediately since it’s so different than the norm.
2. Don’t Talk Over a Crying Child
Talking over a crying child to insist that they stop crying is not only fruitless, it also sends the silent message, “What I’m saying is more important than your feelings.”
DO try waiting silently until the crying slows just a bit before you speak.
3. Talk Slowly, With Pauses
When a parent’s words/requests are delivered with rapid intensity most children will unconsciously retreat behind the “I’m not listening barrier” to protect themselves from the onslaught.
DO try to be mindful not to emotionally overload the other person/child. Make sure you give them a moment or two to digest what you’ve just said before you move on to the next point.
4. Watch and Adjust Body Language
Paying attention to your child’s body language is a good way to see if what you’re saying is getting through to them. If you’re not getting through, don’t blame them or make them self-conscious by calling their attention to what their body is doing. Instead, adjust what you are doing.
DO make eye contact, do reach out and touch them lightly on the shoulder to create a connection, do get down to their eye level, not in their face, and do modulate your voice so your words are warm and accepting vs. cold and accusing.
Being mindful of how your words impact someone places you in partnership with them and increases the possibility of listening, whether you’re speaking to an adult or a child.