With all the distractions in modern life, it’s not surprising children have trouble following directions. You can teach your child to listen.
You feel so stressed when your child won’t listen. You have lots of demands and little time. I know listening is a real problem in most families so I developed a strategy. With this strategy, I taught my child to listen.
Does this sound like your household:
It’s time to get out the door for school. You ask your child to put on his shoes but he’s so engrossed in playing Legos that he ignores you. You wait ten seconds and ask again only to be ignored a second time. You repeat this cycle until you either yell, threaten, or get super angry.
If this sounds like your family, you’re not alone.
My husband and I felt like we were constantly repeating ourselves to our daughter. We were losing our patience and getting nowhere fast. Finally, we studied when the biggest problem times for her. No real surprise — it was transitions. Once we knew that, we taught our child to listen. And you can too!
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When Children Don’t Listen to their Parents
There are many reasons your child isn’t listening to you.
- Related: Your Child Doesn’t Follow Directions
Most common reason is due to transitions. Children often have a poor sense of time.
We’re usually telling them to do something they don’t want to!
Listening requires executive function. the ability to think rationally, plan logically, and manage impulses.
Disciplining a Child who doesn’t Listen
Discipline means teach. It doesn’t mean punish or give a consequence.
Both spanking and yelling are both harmful for children.
So what are parents supposed to do? No one showed you when you were a child.
We have to clearly teach them just as if you’re teaching your child to ride a bike.
Strategies to Teach Your Child to Listen
Get your child’s full attenton
Teachers use this. It’s
Ask Child to Repeat
Use a Timer
Use a Positive Reinforcement Chart
Smiley chart is positive reinforcement for your child.
Listening is both a skill and a habit.
How I Taught My Child to Listen
The good news is both your child and you can learn to make transitions easier with several simple steps. This strategy is probably best for children age four or older.
Step 1: Chose your biggest trigger
For two days, commit to paying attention to when your child isn’t listening and following directions.
Here are some common daily transition times:
- going to the bathroom
- getting dressed
- eating meals
- putting on socks and shoes
- cleaning up toys
- turning off a TV show or tablet
- going to the car or bus
- putting away backpack after school
- brushing teeth
- going to bed
Step 2: Get close and get full attention
I chose turning off the TV.
Step 3: Use the timer
Have a conversation with your child that starts like this:
Parent: Hey, I’ve noticed that turning off the TV is hard for you. Have you noticed that?
Avoid judgmental or blaming language like “You never listen.” Explain that you want to try to see if your child can get better at listening to directions.
This is also a good opportunity to teach humility and explain that you’ve made mistakes like losing patience, or yelling, or threatening. Make the goal clear: you want your child to listen and you want to stay calm during these five times so everyone will feel happier.
Last, explain that your child and you will decide whether the child listened within the two minutes and followed the directions.
Step 4: Praise or assist
The printable chart “Help Me Make Transitions” is meant for you to print and post somewhere obvious in your house. The plan has four parts:
- Ask me to make a transition.
Give your child a clear, concise direction at eye-level: “Turn off the TV. It’s time for breakfast. I’m setting the timer.” Show the child the Tricky Transitions chart with the picture.
- Set the timer for 2 minutes.
You can use the timer on your phone, microwave, or use a 2 minute sand timer.
- Praise me if I make the transition independently.
Use specific praise like, “Wow, you turned off the TV all by yourself. You feel proud and I’m proud, too.”
- Help me make the transition if I need help.
This is definitely the trickiest part. If your child doesn’t make the transition by when the timer is done, get down at eye-level, repeat the direction, and take your child’s hand to lead him or her to complete the transition.
Step 5: Celebrate and reevaluate
After 1 or 2 weeks, it’s a good time to celebrate the progress your child has made. Is he making one or two transitions independently? Are there fewer tantrums when it’s time to transition. Are YOU behaving calmer?
My daughter quickly made her target tricky transitions. We kept up the habit for a full month and then discontinued. We did not offer any other incentives other than the satisfaction of completing the transition.
When we find her not following directions, we revisit this process. It usually only takes a few days to get her back on track.
When Toddlers won’t Listen
I have to be honest that our toddler son makes transitions pretty easily. Plus his receptive language (ability to listen and comprehend) blows my mind. It’s just typical, but my husband and I are new to this typical thing. So I have not tested this strategy with a toddler.
Nonetheless, for toddlers and preschoolers, I recommend just building a morning routine. Transitions in the morning tend to be really hard for everyone, and using a routine with pictures will help make transitions easier.
For other times of the day, I recommend using visuals of what you need your child to do. This helps children follow directions. I recommend you show your toddler the picture of the next thing you want him to do and then allow about two minutes before you help your child make the transition to that task.
Let me know if making transitions is a challenge for your toddler in the comments and I can better address it in a future post.
Recapping Teach Your Child to Listen