“How can I get my kids to listen?” This is one of the most frequently-asked questions among parents. So how do you discipline a child that won’t listen?
I’m not a disciplinarian. So how do I discipline so that my child will listen without yelling, nagging or punishing?
Let me tell you a story about my “obedient” child. And then I’ll show you the method I use to create a happy, harmonious family – step by step.
How to Get Kids to Listen … By Not Making Them Listen
On a hot summer day, my 5 year old daughter was swimming with two friends. One friend called across the pool to ask her mother if she could use the hot tub. Her mom said no – after all, it was sweltering.
My daughter and the other friend started asking, too. Her mother and I shook our heads. “No, you can’t,” I told my daughter gently. “I’m sorry. It’s just too hot and not safe for little kids to go into the hot tub.”
Her friends started whining. But my little girl turned to them and announced proudly: “My mom said no. And I’m listening to MY MOM.“
The other two mothers stared at me. They wanted to know my secret.
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 rarely give her orders to do things. Sometimes I ask her to follow instructions, but mostly I make requests.
When she doesn’t listen to my request, I accept her decision and let it go … unless there are very valid reasons why she must do what I say (more on this later).
Respect: It’s Not Only For Grownups
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 follow my guidance, I clearly explain to her why. But otherwise, she has the freedom to choose what to do and whether to accede to her parents’ wishes.
When a child feels respected and is allowed to have control over her own life, she listens out of her free will when you have something important to say.
Our child respects us because we have shown her respect first.
We give them reasons, not commands, when we need them to do something.
How to get kids to listen, Step By Step
To get your kids to listen and behave when it counts, follow these five steps for children who are in preschool or older. (For toddlers or younger children, focus on helping them learn self regulation, not getting them to follow instructions.)
Note: Step #1 is crucial. Make sure you’re on board with this one; otherwise, the rest of the process won’t work for you.
#1 Accept That We Can’t … and Shouldn’t … Control Anyone but Ourselves
Kids are not robots. Kids are not pets. Kids are not our property. We shouldn’t try to control another human being.
And let’s face it: The reality is that we CAN’T.
We seem to have control when our kids are smaller and rely on us entirely for survival. But one day, we won’t have that advantage. When that day comes, what do you think your child will do if you are very controlling now?
I’ve seen many adult children who don’t even talk to their controlling parents after moving out. Other times, even if the children stay in touch, the relationships are not as close as the parents hoped they would be.
But besides worrying about the future, think about the present: Think of the constant power struggles. Think of all the conflicts you have with your child when you try to control them. Was that the picture you had in mind when you decided to have kids?
You may think it’s impossible to have your dream “happy family” if you don’t have complete control. But that’s not true.
You don’t need total control to have harmony at home. And, in fact, accepting that you cannot control anyone but yourself will make you a much happier person – and your home happier and more peaceful.
Are you worried that if you accept this tenet, your kids will do whatever they want and rule the house? Keep reading.
#2 Be Sensible – Insist Only When There is a Good Reason
“Why can’t I get my kids to listen to me?”
If you find yourself asking this question, first reevaluate what you’re asking them to do.
As adults, we have a lot of social rules and expectations, some necessary, but others that are only our own preferences. Ask yourself if what you want your child to do is necessary. Do you have a good reason to insist on your child’s compliance, besides “because I said so”?
Good reasons why children must listen to you include:
|Safety||– You cannot poke your sister’s eyes|
– You cannot jump on the dining table
|Health||– You have to brush your teeth to prevent cavities|
– You have to eat some vegetables to stay healthy
|Do No Harm||– You cannot hit other people or animals|
– You cannot throw things at the window
|Situational Constraints||– We have to leave now, or we will miss the flight|
– We can’t afford to buy this
– I can’t play piggyback with you right now because my back hurts
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 sensical, sensible request?
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 refuses because she doesn’t feel like it.||Have her bring a coat and then put it on when she does feel cold.|
|You want your child to use utensils every day 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 (after washing his hands).|
Children may be immature and naturally self-centered, but they do listen to good reasons and explanations.
If your children seem never to listen, chances are they are using every opportunity to fight back against your attempts to control every aspect of their lives.
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 as Kids Practice Making Judgement
We all want to raise kids who have good judgment and can make the right decisions when we’re not there to tell them what to do.
But how can they do that without practicing making decisions – and making some of their own mistakes?
Just as falling is an integral part of learning to walk, making bad decisions is an integral part of learning to make good choices.
Do you punish a child for falling when they’re learning to walk? No.
So don’t punish your child for failing to make a sound judgment. They need practice and experience to refine their judging skills.
When they make mistakes, guide them in a positive, supportive way – just like you supported them when they fell as toddlers.
In most cases, experiencing the natural consequences of lousy decision-making is itself enough for them to learn the lesson.
Piling punishment on top will take their focus away from absorbing the lesson and taking responsibility for their error. Instead, they’ll be pre-occupied with anger and resentment; they will redirect their frustration with themselves into frustration with you.
Of course, I don’t mean you should let your child run into the road and get hit by a car. Remember the “Safety” category above?
But for less critical decisions, there is no 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 reminding, 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 on children forever. Sooner or later, the stubborn ones will stop responding to this and, in fact, fail. Do you want that to happen in first grade or high school?
(Hint: Failing first grade will not affect their college applications.)
For another example, if your child doesn’t use her manners when she’s over at a friend’s house, she may not be invited back. That’s a natural consequence.
When kids fail early, the failure is usually smaller, the consequence less severe and recovery easier. They are also more likely to learn the lesson, because they haven’t become entrenched in a pattern of resistance by fighting you on it for years.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to let them fail on non-critical decision making.
#4 Let Them Decide, but Guide Them Through Questions
So how to discipline a child that doesn’t listen?
Well, discipline a child by teaching, not by bossing them around.
No one likes to be bossed around.
We don’t. And kids don’t either.
Give them the freedom to make as many decisions as reasonably possible. I’ve even let my child decide what I wear … well, sometimes.
When you don’t agree with their decisions, instead of saying they’re wrong, ask them questions. Ask your child why they want to do things this way. Ask them what they will feel about the predictable results.
Come up with different scenarios to help them think through all the possible outcomes. Help them identify possible negative results, and ask them if they can change their decisions to prevent them.
You’ll be teaching them critical thinking skills and a sound decision-making process. Your child will benefit for life from learning these vital skills early on.
One important note: 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 your predictions about outcomes. They’ll be more likely to take your word for it, instead of wanting to test things out to see for themselves.
#5 Stay Calm, and Acknowledge Your Accomplishment
Using this parenting approach is not easy. It’s especially hard for those of us who weren’t raised this way.
Very often, when our kids don’t obey what we tell them to do, our anger bubbles up. But when we’re angry, our logical brain shuts off – and all our good intentions go out the window.
So a key element to successfully executing this method is staying 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, to let go of complete control and to resist anger require a tremendous amount of patience, self-control and determination.
It’s not a one-way street. Sometimes you’ll do better, while other times you’ll slip into controlling or angry behavior.
Pat yourself on the back whenever you move closer to your goal, even if you can’t do it all at once or all the time.
Because, just like children learning to walk or make good decisions, it takes practice. Mistakes are part of learning, so give yourself the same support and room to fail that you want to accord your children.
See Results Fast
Although it’s hard work, this method doesn’t take long to yield results.
My friend was struggling with getting her 8-year-old to do his homework. She found herself constantly yelling because he just wouldn’t listen.
She was mentally and physically exhausted. She was worried that her child would fail in school. She was afraid that her scolding would damage his self-esteem and his relationship with her. And on top of all that, she was concerned that her actions would make him hate school.
So I mentioned this method to her. The next week, she told me she’d tried it over the weekend and was already seeing results.
What she did: First, she sat her son down. She told him that from then on, he would be responsible for finishing his homework without pressure from his parents. If he decided not to do it, that would be his choice.
In the past, her son had always waited for Mom to start yelling before he’d begin his work, usually on the very last day before it was due.
But after his mom’s little talk, he did some homework over the weekend on his own initiative – and said he planned to finish the rest on time.
How to Stick With It (Even When You Slip Up)
Despite this promising start, my friend had a hard time actually following through to the point of letting her child fail, if that was the path he chose. She became anxious and started nagging again right before the homework was due.
It’s easy to slip back into old patterns (and for our kids to slip back into patterns of resisting us rather than taking responsibility). The lesson: Don’t let your insecurity take over. Try to stick to the method. If you fail, dust yourself off and try again.
If it’s hard, remember the key points: It’s OK to let your child fail on non-critical issues. Even if you slip, keep trying and practicing.
And when it feels too hard, remind yourself what your parenting goal is.
For me, my goal is to raise an independent and well-adjusted child who can think critically, analyze issues intelligently and make the right decisions for her. My goal is not to get my child to listen and obey blindly.
If you keep striving to implement this parenting strategy, you will raise a child who is self-reliant and possesses sound judgment. Plus, you’ll enjoy a lifetime of closeness with them.
And that makes it all worth it.
Need More Motivation Help?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, my online course Self-motivated Learner is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate in learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.