“How to get kids to listen?” is one of the most frequently asked questions from parents.
I’m not a disciplinarian. So how did I make my kid listen without yelling, threatening or punishing?
Here’s a story about my “obedient” child listening to me. And I will show you the method I use to create a happy, harmonious family, step-by-step.
My Child Listens
On a hot summer day, my 5 year-old daughter went swimming with her two friends.
When one of her friends asked her mom across the pool if she could use the hot tub, her mom said no because it was an extremely hot day.
Then my daughter and the other girl started shouting the same question from inside the pool.
The other mom and I shook our heads indicating “no”.
My kid’s friends started whining.
My daughter probably couldn’t see me from across the pool. So she came out of the water, ran to me and asked me again.
I said softly, “No, you can’t. I’m sorry. Because it’s just too hot and not safe for little kids to go into the hot tub.”
She then turned and ran back.
When she arrived at the pool, she announced to her friends loudly and proudly,
“My mom said no. And I’m listening to MY MOM.”
The two moms looked at me in shock and wondered what my secret was to getting my child to listen so easily.
It Doesn’t Bother Me When My Child Doesn’t Listen
So, here’s my secret …
the truth is …
… my daughter usually doesn’t listen to me at home.
Because I don’t make her listen to me.
I don’t usually give her orders to do things.
I make requests.
When she doesn’t listen to my request, I accept her decision and let it go … unless there are very good reasons why she must listen to me (more on this later).
I Get My Child To Listen By Not Making Her Listen
I respect my child as an individual, someone with her own preferences and rights.
I don’t make her bend to my will.
When there are times she must listen to me, I clearly explain to her why.
But otherwise, she has the freedom to choose what to do and whether to listen to our requests.
When a child feels respected and is allowed to have control over her own life, she listens when you have something important to say.
My child also respects me because I have shown her respect first.
Controlless Parenting Step-by-Step
To get your kids to listen and behave, here are 5 steps.
These steps apply to children who are in preschool or older (for toddlers or younger children, the focus should be helping them control their emotions, not making them listen).
Note: Step #1 is crucial. If you don’t agree with this one, you don’t have to keep on reading because the rest will be meaningless.
#1 Accept That We Can’t And We Shouldn’t Control Anyone But Ourselves
Kids are not robots.
Kids are not pets.
Kids are not our properties.
We shouldn’t want to control another human being.
And in reality, we CAN’T.
Even though we seem to have control right now because kids are smaller and rely on us completely for survival, one day, we won’t have that advantage.
When that day comes, what do you think your child will do if you are being very controlling now?
I’ve seen many cases where adult children don’t even talk to their controlling parents any more once they move out.
For some, even if they are still in touch, the relationships are not close ones that the parents have hoped for.
Furthermore, think of all the conflicts you have with your child right now.
Was that the picture you had in mind when you first decided to have kids?
I bet we all had this “happy family” dream when we were starting a family.
Now you probably think that it’s impossible to have that dream come true if you don’t have complete control.
But that is not true.
You don’t need complete control in order to have harmony at home.
Accepting that you cannot control anyone but yourself will make you a much happier person.
You will also have a much happier and more peaceful home.
Before you jump into the “kids will then do whatever they want and rule the house” argument, keep reading (if you are not dead set on NEVER giving up complete control).
#2 Insist Only When There Is A Good Reason
If your child is not listening, the first thing to do is to re-evaluate what you’re asking them to listen to.
As adults, we have a lot of social rules and expectations, some necessary but others only our own preferences.
Ask yourself if what you want your child to listen to is necessary.
Do you have a good reason to insist on your child listening besides “because I said so”?
Good reasons why children must listen include:
|No harms to people, animals or properties|
If a request does not belong to any of these categories, ask yourself why it is so important.
Is the request really necessary for the well-being of your child?
Is it a “need” or a “want” (your want)?
If it is not a real need, find an agreeable alternative.
|You want your child to wear a jacket because it’s cold outside, but your child says she doesn’t want to because she’s not cold.||Have her bring a jacket and then put it on when she does feel cold.|
|You want your child to use utensils to eat to show proper manners, but your child wants to eat with his hands.||Ask him to use utensils properly when there are guests, but when there’s no guest, he can eat any way he wants.|
Children may be immature and a little ignorant, but they do listen to good reasons and explanations.
If your child seems to never listen, chances are they are using every opportunity to fight back your attempt to control every aspect of their lives.
So it seems like they “never” listen.
But if you give them enough freedom to make their own decisions on non-critical issues, they will listen to the critical ones.
#3 Do Not Punish
We all want to raise kids who have good judgement and can make good decisions.
But how can they do that without practicing and making mistakes?
Falling is an important part of learning to walk.
Making bad decisions is an important part of learning to make good decisions.
Do you punish your child for falling when they were learning to walk?
Then do not punish your child for failing to make good decisions.
They need practice and experiences to refine their judging skills.
When they make mistakes, guide them in a positive, supportive way, just like how you supported them when they fell as toddlers.
In most cases, experiencing the natural consequence itself is already bad enough for them to learn the lesson.
Piling punishment on top will take their focus away from absorbing the lesson because then they would be pre-occupied by anger and resentment.
Of course, I don’t mean you should let your child run into the road and get hit by a car. That one belongs to the “Safety” category above.
What I mean is for many things not listed above, there is no big harm in letting children experience the natural results of their own decisions (Note: Time-out is NOT a natural consequence).
Sometimes, parents are controlling because they want to protect their children from failure.
But it is actually better for children to fail earlier rather than later.
When they fail early, they learn early.
For example, your kid doesn’t do his homework without your constant nagging and yelling.
You feel that you have to do this because otherwise your child will fail in school.
But constant nagging and yelling won’t work forever.
Sooner or later, your child will stop responding to this and fail in school.
Do you want that to happen in 1st grade or in high school?
Hint: failing 1st grade will not affect their college application as much as failing in high school.
When kids fail early, the failure is usually smaller, the consequence less severe and recovery easier.
So don’t be afraid to let them fail.
#4 Let Them Decide And Ask Questions
No one likes to be bossed around all the time.
Kids don’t either.
Give them freedom to make as many decisions as reasonably possible.
I even let my child decide what I wear, sometimes.
When you don’t agree with their decisions, instead of calling them wrong, ask them questions.
Ask your child why they want to do things this way.
Ask them what they will feel when something goes wrong.
Come up with different scenarios for them to think through all the possible outcomes.
Ask them if they can change their decisions to prevent bad results.
You are teaching them critical thinking skills and a good decision making process.
Your child will benefit for life learning these important skills early on.
Note that when you explain the possible outcomes, do not make them up or exaggerate.
You want to build a track record of telling it like it is.
Over time, your child will learn to trust that when you say X is going to happen, X will happen.
Then they will take your words instead of wanting to test it out to see for themselves.
#5 Self-Reflect And Acknowledge Your Accomplishment
This Controlless Parenting Method to get kids to listen is not easy.
It is especially hard for those of us who have not been raised this way.
Very often, when our kids don’t listen, our anger naturally bubbles up.
But when we are angry, our logical brain shuts off and everything I’ve written above goes out the window no matter how good it sounds in theory.
So it is imperative that we stay calm.
Reflect on what triggers your anger and be prepared for it.
Understand that your child is not meant to live your dream life.
They will create and live their own.
To accept this reality, let go of control and resist anger requires tremendous amount of patience, self-control and determination.
Give yourself a pat on the back whenever you move closer to that goal, even if you cannot do them all at once.
Because it takes practice.
See Results Fast
Although it is hard, this method doesn’t take long to see results.
A parent friend of mine was struggling with getting her first-grader to do homework by himself.
My friend found herself constantly yelling because her child wouldn’t listen.
She was mentally and physically exhausted.
She was worried that her child would fail in school.
She was afraid that the scolding would damage his self-esteem and the parent-child relationship.
She was also worried that her action would cause her child to hate school.
I mentioned this Controlless Parenting Method to her last week.
This week, she told me she tried it over the weekend and she already saw results.
Before she started, she told her son that from then on, he would be responsible for finishing his homework without pressure from the parents.
If he decided not to do it, that would be his choice.
In the past, her son always waited until the last day when my friend started yelling to begin doing homework.
But after the Controlless talk, he did some homework over the weekend on his own initiative.
And he promised his mother that he would finish the rest before it would be due.
It Is Worth It
My friend didn’t achieve 100% success at first try because she became anxious and started nagging before the homework was due.
So it is important to not let your own insecurity take over and essential to stick to the method.
Recall that it is OK to let them fail early on non-critical decisions.
But even if you slip, keep trying and practicing.
Remember, just like our kids who need practice to make good judgement, we need practice to control our emotions.
When it becomes too hard, I remind myself what my parenting goal is.
My parenting goal is to raise an independent and well-adjusted child who can think critically, analyze issues intelligently and make good decisions.
My parenting goal is not to get my child to listen to me and obey blindly.
No matter how hard it is, once you get over the internal struggle and the mental hump, you will have a child who is self-reliant and possesses sound judgement.
You will also enjoy a lifetime of close, harmonious relationship with them.
Then it is all worth it.