Expert Advice

Six expert tips that will help your child respond the first time

Hint: Yelling doesn't work.

By Dr Anna Cohen, Kids & Co.

We've all been there. Calling out our children's names and asking for something to be done then, waiting, waiting and more waiting.

Children's selective hearing is a frustrating behaviour all parents face, and while it's a common trait, it's important parents don't overlook it and understand how to put an end to it, and quickly.

How do you get your child to listen?

Children have a thing for ignoring requests, particularly if it's something they don't want to do.

If you ask your child to do something and they consistently ignore you, and you don't follow through with consequences, you are actually teaching them to ignore you.

Similarly, parents that respond with yelling, nagging and bribing, will in the long run cause their child to continue ignoring, as they will think it is negative behaviour that gets attention.

So how do you get your children to listen? These useful strategies will effectively get your children to pay attention and take action the first time you ask.

1. Give effective instructions

A common error made by parents is the way they are issuing instructions to their children. Typically, parents will ask for something and get no response. When they continue to be ignored, the parent becomes angry and raises their voice, which in turn negatively reinforces the behaviour.

Parents often issue non-direct instructions or requests, such as, 'Can someone help me pack away the dishes?' so the children feel it doesn't necessarily apply to them.

Instead, parents need to give clear instructions that have commitment and imply that action is required, for example, 'Tom, (wait for Tom to respond) "Yes Mum", "It's time to come and help with the dishes now.'

It is very important that you get your child to respond before you give an instruction to make sure they have heard and are paying attention to you.

Parents need to give clear instructions, that have commitment and imply that action is required.
Parents need to give clear instructions, that have commitment and imply that action is required.

2. Stop the escalation trap

To eliminate the 'escalation trap', parents need to erase all requests and choice statements, where there is no choice for your children to make.

The aim is to guide your child to respond immediately instead of only when there is yelling or an argument.

To do this, maintain your role as the in-control parent. Listen to what your child says and make decisions that are fair and reasonable, as your child is more likely to accept a decision.

Instructions need to be direct and clear and must state what is expected in a certain situation and finish with a "thank you" (which indicates the instruction is not a choice), rather than a "please", which indicates a request or choice.

3. Use choices when speaking to your child

As parents, you can use choices in certain situations as a tool to develop your child's decision-making skills. An effective use of a choice statement could be, 'Would you prefer to do 20 minutes of reading now or after dinner?'

This type of statement makes your expectations clear, and is structured around what you need them to do but offers them the power of when to do it. Choices will become important, as your child gets older as they will feel more in control.

4. Speak directly to your child

Instead of calling out instructions from the kitchen while your children are in another room, make sure you are within close proximity before speaking.

Using your proximity and being an arm's length away ensures they will hear what you are asking, and will also make it difficult for them to ignore you. Ask your child to repeat the instruction so you know they have heard and understood. Allow a small amount of time for them to follow through, and if they still don't action your instruction, then employ a consequence.

It will also be important to avoid giving more than one or two instructions at a time, as it may confuse your child.

Use physical proximity to your advantage.
Use physical proximity to your advantage.

5. Acknowledge your child’s desirable behaviour

The way we respond to our children's behaviours encourages them to respond to situations in different ways.

For example, when your child packs the dishwasher, use relational praise and acknowledgement and say "thanks, for helping out I really appreciate it", rather than using rewards. We want our children to behave considerately because it is the right thing to do. This way, they then internalise it and feel good when they do something for someone else, rather than doing something because they will get a reward.

Remember, praise or acknowledgement needs to be authentic and over praise can have a negative effect. We don't want children to expect to be praised every time they do something, this can lead to poor self-esteem and a lack of resilience.

6. Employ planned ignoring

Planned ignoring is simple, you pay extra attention to behaviours you want to see repeated and ignore minor negative behaviours.

Planned ignoring is effective for annoying habits, including a child ignoring you, as often they are doing it to get an emotional response. When your child comes to you, start by withdrawing eye contact and have no verbal or physical contact.

Some parents may prefer to signal their intention to ignore for example, 'I feel like you are ignoring me, I will talk to you once you have unloaded the dishwasher.' If the negative behaviour stops and they take action on the instruction, make a positive comment that acknowledges the more desirable behaviour, for example you could say, "Thanks for unloading the dishwasher," and then have a conversation with them about their day at school.

This teaches children that they will gain your attention by doing considerate things.

Planned ignoring can work wonders.
Planned ignoring can work wonders.

It is important for parents to be consistent, avoid yelling and take a breath when the wave of frustration takes over from your child ignoring you.

The key is to strive for all round effective communication, by being specific in what you want your child to do and telling them within close proximity. If your child continues to ignore you, apply reasonable consequences that will help them learn accountability for their actions.

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