Is it possible to get a child to actually do the thing you asked them to do the first time you asked them to do it? Some people (like myself) would respond Hahaha! Good one! As someone who battles the Congressional-level stall tactics of three children under age 10 on the daily, this notion seems preposterous. But, despite all evidence to the contrary, I want to believe.
Yet apparently, according to parenting experts, it can be done. If your current system of outlining the task, reminding, repeating that reminder 3-10 times, then snapping isn’t working, it’s a sign something is amiss with how the requests are being made. Here are a few ways parents can stop giving constant reminders and get their kids to listen.
Children who feel connected to their parents are more inclined to listen and respond to their requests. During down times, when you have nowhere to be, take time to laugh, be affectionate, and play—on their terms—to build the relationship. When you do need to get out the door, bend down and make eye contact with your child. Touch, smile, and use a neutral tone of voice when making your request. (We know this isn’t always feasible when no one is ready and the bus is coming in five minutes, but, whenever possible, connect with your child before barking orders at them.)
Sometimes kids hear us say the same things so many times, it becomes background noise. Especially if those things have been said in an annoyed, borderline shouty voice. Before you get to a boiling point that compels you to yell, draw your children close and whisper the request. Not only will it get their full attention, it will feel playful, and might even make them want to participate.
Limit the number of requests
Have you ever heard a video of you speaking to your kids and thought, Blech, that person sounds annoying? Same. Listen to yourself for a day. Track how many times you correct, direct, or command your children to do something. It’s probably more than you think—and will help you understand why they’ve stopped listening. Pare down the number of verbal corrections and requests you make. Keep it to the most important tasks—and either ease up on the smaller things, or create visual reminders for those. Speaking of which…
Create visual reminders
As parenting educator and author of The Good News About Bad Behavior Katherine Reynolds Lewis told Vox, showing kids what needs to happen (or “making the invisible visible”) then recruiting them to participate ca n bean effective method to encourage participation. In addition to assigning kids tasks, Lewis prompts parents to ask kids what skills they’re interested in learning. Write everything down (including pictures for pre-reading kids), and let the visual snapshot of tasks do the majority of the reminding.
Keep it short
Kids don’t do well with lengthy requests. (Who does, really?) Instead of long explanations, lectures, and shaming about how “they always put thing off until the last minute,” keep reminders short and sweet. “Teeth!” “Shoes on.” “Get your snack ready, please.”
Keep it light
Whenever possible, inject playfulness into your communication. Instead of, “We have to put your shirt on now,” hide the shirt (someplace obvious) and ask your child if they can find it. (Or some other such minimally time-consuming silliness.) Using non-verbal cues can also be effective, i.e. placing notes that say, “I’m sad because I miss my friends!” on clothes that are strewn on the floor instead of in the hamper.
It’s no fun to get interrupted when you’re fully absorbed in an activity. Instead of expecting kids to immediately put down the Minecraft dungeon they’re focused on, give them 10- and 5-minute warnings, so they won’t be as surprised when they need to pull themselves away.
Do the task alongside them
We know, you have 287 competing things to do at any given moment, and you want your kids, by a certain age, to just do it themselves. And they will get there, in time. But sometimes a little help, or modeling, goes a long way. Go through the task with them—straightening up toys side-by side, packing a snack together, and folding laundry, rather than expecting them to do it, successfully and in a timely manner, alone.
Make some to-do’s their choice
Some things—like brushing teeth, bathing, and putting away clothes—are responsibilities a child must fulfill whether they want to or not. Others go along with activities they’ve chosen, like playing soccer or learning piano. When a child asks to participate in an activity they enjoy, lay out the expectations and ramifications of that choice before signing up. (Things like: Homework directly after school on practice days, no TV time on weekend morning game days, and piano practice 3-4 times a week.) When they bemoan those responsibilities (and try to direct their frustration at you) remind them of their choice. (And that you can pull them out at any time.)
Let your child experience natural consequences
When my husband is home on school mornings, we usually take turns saying things like Did you brush your teeth? Is your snack ready? Is what you’re doing right now productive? and You still don’t have your socks on?! Sometimes as parents, we need to do less, so that our kids can experience the natural consequences of their choices. If they choose to fiddle with fidgets instead of getting their backpack ready, they might be flustered and weepy when they have to haul ass to catch the bus. And that might be a good thing, so they understand why it’s better to manage their time wisely.
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