As a teacher, I have a front row seat to children misbehaving. Most of the time, I am in no way judging other parents. Kids get tired, they get sick, they have a bad day and they throw a fit or decide not to listen. It happens. But one thing that does bother me is when a kid doesn’t listen and you can tell this isn’t a one-off or a bad day. It is something that consistently happens.
I’ll give you a hint: as someone who works with kids, we can tell the difference. We can tell when a parent is embarrassed and just trying to get their kid out without losing their cool. We can also tell when a parent lets their kid have total control over everything.
(Make sure you check out my post of tips for dealing with stubborn toddlers. These can come in super helpful when dealing with a non-listening toddler! You should also check out my ebook about how to give a toddler choices. Giving a toddler choices can help significantly cut down on tantrums. )
Let me tell you something: That doesn’t have to be the case. You can take back control by getting your child to listen, specifically when you are out and about. I’m not talking about blind obedience. I’m not saying your child will listen 100% of the time. I’m just saying your child needs to understand that you are the adult and what you say goes. Here are five ways to get your child to listen.
This is the biggest thing. Start early with some of these tips. Toddlers can understand things a lot earlier than most people give them credit for. I hate the word “training” when it comes to kids. But listening is something that needs to be enforced time after time from a young age.
Just so you know, starting at a toddler age, you do have to give them a few chances and some time to comply, as long as they aren’t in a dangerous situation. It takes them time to process and understand before they change their action.
There have definitely been cringe-worthy times when I have asked a child to do something and they seem to not be listening to me, but it turns out they just didn’t understand what I asked them to do. Then I feel like a total jerk for starting to get frustrated.
When children seem to be not listening, I first think of exactly how I phrased my comment to them and think about if it was clear. Sometimes, as adults, we phrase things in a polite, adult way where the meaning is actually hidden. For example, the other day there were three girls playing on the monkey bars at school. One was hanging upside down from her knees and the other two were trying to jump and grab her arms like trapeze artists. I could just foresee them smashing faces. So how did I try to ask them to stop? By saying
“That doesn’t look like a good idea.”
So what did they do? Smile at me and continue doing it. Of course I got a little frustrated, but then I realized what I had actually said. Other adults would be able to catch on to the hidden message that was saying “Stop doing that” but they are just kids. So then I rephrased it and said
“That was my nice way of asking you to stop doing that. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Without getting angry, I rephrased it to say what I actually wanted them to do (stop being trapeze artists) and I even threw in my reason for it (I don’t want them to get hurt.) And you know what? Once I rephrased it, they stopped.
One of the best ways to get your child to listen is to give consequences. There are two things you have to do to make this really work though:
This is especially important for toddlers. You can’t take away tv time because they ran away from you at the park. They won’t be able to connect those two things. If at all possible, the consequence should be directly related to what they are doing. When I am shopping at Target and Mac wants to walk, I tell her that if she is running away she will have to sit in the cart. If she can’t handle the freedom of walking, she has to be strapped in the cart.
Here are some examples of consequences fitting the crime:
Mac is nothing if she isn’t independent. I’ve talked before about my free range toddler. For her, riding in the cart is a punishment. If your child likes to play quietly in their room, don’t make that a consequence.
One of the punishments we have at school is having to sit for 5-10 minutes on the bench at recess. For some kids, that is a huge deterrent to bad behavior. Others could care less. They do what they want, sit their time, and go back to play without caring a bit about the lost time. For them, it isn’t an effective consequence. They won’t be spurred on to listen if the consequence is no biggie to them.
The biggest thing about consequences though is that:
Look, everyone makes an empty threat or two. Every parent will declare that all of the toys scattered across the floor are going to be thrown away while simultaneously having absolutely no motivation to follow through. But you have to make consequences you are going to actually do.
When I was younger, my parents planned a surprise day for us. They loaded my brother, sister, and I in the car and told us we were headed to the big city for a secret day of fun they had planned. Of course we started fighting before we even hit the gas station. After a few warnings, my fed up parents decided we were turning around and going back home.
You bet your sweet bippy we thought extra hard about how we acted the next time my parents planned a special day.
Follow through is hard. I’m sure my parents wanted desperately to just get us to shut up so we could continue on with our lovely day. But they took a stand because fighting in the car was a continued problem and they wanted us to know they were serious.
This is the part that I see parents failing on usually. Parents will count to 3, threaten to “come over there and get them,” whatever else, but they are totally empty threats and the kids know that. Follow through is your best friend when it comes to getting kids to listen. You can then remind them “Remember last time when you didn’t listen and then you had to ride in the cart? That will happen again if you don’t stay by me.”
The last tip is another one that may seem difficult. I am all for gentle parenting and positive parenting, but at the end of the day raising a kid isn’t all roses and daisies. They need to know you are serious and they need to know when they have crossed the line.
Being firm is not yelling and being firm is not mean. It is using a stern, serious voice and looking them straight in the face. When a child at school takes a swing at me and wants to hit me out of anger, I grab them by the wrists, look them directly in the face and very firmly say “No!” I don’t yell it and I try not to even raise my voice. But I want them to know I am serious.
The Head of School where I work also had a good point. There is a huge difference between “No” and “No Thank You.” If a child is doing something you don’t like, you say “No” because “No Thank You” is reserved for times when someone offers you some food you don’t like or offers to do something nice that isn’t necessary. It is a polite way to turn something down. If a child is doing something dangerous or trying to hit you or destroy things, you shouldn’t be polite. You should be firm.