4 No-Nonsense Ways To Get Your Kids To Actually Listen

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Strategies To Get Your Kid To Listen To You

Getting your kids to listen is one of the hardest parts of parenting. From the time little ones can walk, they prize their independence. But when "I can do it myself" takes an ugly turn into meltdowns, crackups, and even blatant defiance ... what's a frustrated parent to do?

Here are four no-nonsense ways to get your spirited kids to listen. And by "no nonsense" I mean ... there's no fluff here; these techniques actually work: 

1. Parent with consistency

Posting house rules in an obvious place, like the fridge, is only part of the job. You have to actually enforce the rules ... consistently. 

You don’t have to make the rules complicated. Even better, invite your kids to contribute to the list. 

You can even make your rule list fun. Preschoolers may want a sticker chart, and grade schoolers may prefer to draw the chart. Eventually, for teens, the chart can even look like a workplace performance review — with a vision, mission and goals.

Just ensure that you consistently track the rules and resulting rewards. What works and what doesn’t? Change the list together according to your findings.

Give your kids general directions and guidance to succeed, but don't micro-manage. Do away with the speeches and the judgment. Kids respond to simple statements and consistent rewards and consequences.

So, remember to reward or praise them for their efforts. "Punishment doesn’t teach your child what’s expected and how you want her to behave," says parenting coach Pat Harvey LCSW-C.

2. Show your kids a little compassion

Kids make mistakes. Kids make poor choices as part of the process of learning to make better choices. Treat your children like human beings. Just because they handled their emotions poorly doesn't mean their emotions weren't valid.  

Say your daughter hits her brother over the head with a (thank God!) empty water bottle. Avoid judgment. Find out both sides of the issue and acknowledge both children’s feelings.

If you determine one child started the feud, find a way to discipline and empower him or her to act in a more positive way next time. I use the word "and" a lot with my kids, as in: "I know Johnny took away your favorite fire truck and broke its ladder, AND we do not hit people even when we’re angry."

Then empower both the combatants to say how they’d handle the situation next time. If we, as the parents (and role models for appropriate behavior) start yelling when tempers are already high, we just reinforce the idea that lashing out is an acceptable response. This never, ever leads to peaceful resolution. Leading with peace breeds peace.

3. Coach your kids through the process 

According to parenting coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus, "The coach approach helps parents learn to champion their kids in a positive, empowering way. The focus is primarily on learning and improvement, rather than correction and re-direction." 

Practice active listening and stay in the moment with your child. Stop your chores and put your phone down for five minutes each day to find out how your children are doing. You may even repeat what they say to ensure you understand, then help your kids find their own solutions by asking questions instead of lecturing. Let them try a few solutions to figure out what actually works. Coach them through figuring out how to solve problems themselves versus just blindly "doing as their told."

When the solution feels like their own idea, they're more likely to stick with it. 

4. Keep your cool

Notice I didn’t tell you stay CALM. Instead, try to remain neutral, like a curious scientist.

Of course it feels frustrating when your kids don't listen. But contain your anger and upset by keeping things in perspective. They're learning. Following through on new behaviors takes practice. 

And if you do lose it in a restaurant when your son shouts "Bad Mommy!" at the top of his lungs because you won’t get him chicken nuggets for the third time in a week, be kind to yourself. 

"Let’s start thinking of ourselves as human beings first, with great potential for growth and change," say Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. "The process of living or working with children is demanding and exhausting. It requires heart, intelligence, and stamina. When we don’t live up to our own expectations — and we won’t always — let’s be as kind to ourselves as we are to our youngsters."

So let your kids see that you're human, too.

The best advice I ever received came from a fellow mom on a day she was ready to snap: "I told the kids I was putting myself in a time out. Then I shut myself in my room and calmed down. When I came out 10 minutes later, they were playing peacefully and were good as gold the rest of the day." I’ve used that parenting tip for years myself now.  

Children really do model what they see.

So, if you want your children to listen consistently, you must parent consistently. They treat others with compassion when they feel treated with compassion. When we regulate our own emotions (especially the frustrating ones) in a healthy way and take care of ourselves, our children learn to do the same.

If we use magic words like "please," "thank you," and "I’m sorry," they will eventually follow our lead.

And, in the end, when they grow up, you may receive the cool mom award like I just did on my last birthday, and you can throw that "bad mommy" memory away.

Want a happier family? Kathy can help. Contact her for a complimentary 30-minute strategy session. While you're there, check out her blog here on parenting teens.


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