Children “not listening” is one of the most common parenting challenges that I hear about as a Play Therapist and parenting coach. So how do we get our children to listen? We all want more harmony and peace in our households. None of us wants to nag our children or sound like a broken record. And let’s be real— the way our lives are set up isn’t easy—and it most definitely isn’t conducive to the developmental stages of MOST children—and I mean this whether you have a 1 year old or a 15 year old.
Children move at a different pace than we do. Their frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until well into adulthood. The brain waves of children between age 2-6 tend to be more in a theta state—a meditative state and they are aware of what is around them. They’re not designed to be thinking about the 20 other things they need to be doing before bedtime. They live in the here and now. Children tend to be immersed in what they value and not what they don’t. And typically the myriad things we are asking of them are not the things that they value.
This, of course, can be hard for parents because our society doesn’t exactly embrace this here and now approach to life. Two parents have to work (or you just have one parent in a household). Not a lot of support. School starts early. Work days can draw into the night. It’s a lot for parents to manage on a good day, much less during a pandemic!
And children are biologically designed to be individuating and finding the relationship to their own internal locus of control and power. Challenging us is a part of their journey in growing into their power. When we can meet this in healthy ways, not make them wrong for it, but redirect it, children listen better, they are more regulated, they feel supported and closer to us and to themselves.
How can we encourage our children to listen and create more harmony in our day to day life with our families?
Here are 5 steps that can get your children to listen:
- First and foremost, make it a regular practice to listen to them. Yes, stop the clock, drop everything, get down on their level and listen.
Children are watching us to learn how to do things. Do you attend to their needs and expressions or do you say, “Wait a minute”? Or also common, just ignore (not intentionally but it happens) what they’re saying as you run through the “to do” list in your head? Next time, try responding with, “I want to hear what you’re saying but I’m in the middle of something. I’ll be there in one minute.” And follow through. Pay attention to how you’re listening to your children and model what you want to see back from them.
- Make it fun! Children are drawn toward fun. It’s their natural way of being.
How can you make your activity playful—a race, a contest, an opportunity for them to feel successful? Give them a buy in: “In our family we help each other. When we help each other, we actually have more time to play, to connect, to have fun, for hanging out with friends…” what are the things that are meaningful to them? Connect the dots between what they aren’t motivated to do to what they have to do.
- Recognize and appreciate when they do listen or when they do something before you ask (yes, over time of using these practices you’ll see more and more of this!!!). “I so appreciate when you clean up your games when mommy asks you to. It leaves us more time to connect and I love that!” Or, “It means the world to me when we work together so well. I feel like i can stay more peaceful and gentle with you and it feels much better to my body. How about you?”
- Not all children learn the same. Your child may be a visual learner and need picture cues. Or she may be an auditory learner. Your child may be a kinesthetic learner and needs to incorporate movement into their listening and learning.
- Sometimes there are emotions that need to be processed when a child feels powerless. Not listening can be a way they try and get their power back. Give examples with Scarlett where she is not participating, then I let her process her emotions and she’ll say, “you’re right” and help me with the thing at hand.
We all want to be loved, heard and respected by our children. The respect we offer them can have everything to do with the respect we earn back from them. Listening needs to be an active give and take and when we invest our effort into our children’s emotional growth, their lives improves and so do ours.
I believe that the children of this generation are not here to be obedient, as previous generations were asked to do. They’re here to step into their own power in beautiful, loving, compassionate, vibrant ways. As they develop healthy relationships with their power and agency, they can create change in the world on every level. Our job as parents is to support them in doing this while helping them accomplish the tasks of the world and bodies we live in in an empowered way.