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Mama Drama: Getting Kids to Tune In

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Dear Mama Drama:

I have three children ages 2, 4, and 6. I struggle so much to get them to listen to me when I am giving directions or asking them questions. They don’t even listen when I’m trying to do something for them like fix a meal and give them a choice about something. I get so frustrated that I end up yelling at them.

This is clearly not working, but I don’t know what else to do.

~Tuned Out Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Tuned Out:

It is extremely frustrating when your kids don’t listen to you. Sticking with the same old patterns of repeating directions and yelling, however, will only bring the same results. You’ll have to change your approach in order to change their response.

First make sure you have their attention before you give any information. Go to where they are, say their name, get down to their level, and obtain eye contact. Some children need a physical touch such as a hand on their shoulder to move their attention from the activity in which they are engaged.

Give clear, concise directions. Know what you are going to say before you say it and use developmentally appropriate language. Limit the number of directions you give at one time again depending on the developmental level of the child to whom you are speaking.

Remember to support your child through the task. Your two year old will need more support and supervision than the six year old, but don’t expect the six year old to be completely independent.

Encourage your children even when they are not completely successful. Recognize the small steps along the way as they work toward a larger goal.

Natural consequences to not listening can also be very effective. If you are asking if they want pretzels or carrots for snack and they don’t respond, they don’t get a snack.

Sometimes hearing the same old directions in the same old way gets boring and is easy to tune out. Make a silly rhyme or sing the directions. If your kids needs to pick up toys make it into a game by racing the clock. Pretend you are on a safari and use your hands and binoculars to search out items to be captured.

Your six year old should be able to understand opposites so have him do exactly the opposite of what you say such as, “Don’t go into that bathroom and brush your teeth.” or “You had better not put those dirty clothes in the hamper, they belong on they floor.” Kids think this is hilarious and are eager to disobey and do the opposite.

Remember that if you expect a behavior you have to teach it. And you’ll need to reinforce, re-teach, and reinforce it many times before each child has mastered that skill. Have fun, be silly, and help yourself and your kids not take things so seriously.

What tricks do you use to get your kids to listen?

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 14, 2010

    Sage advice, as always! Repetition works best at my house. I have to remind myself not to nag but to calmly repeated instructions. When they sense I’m calm, they always catch on better!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz May 14, 2010

    “Encourage your children even when they are not completely successful.” This is the part I really need to work on. I’m a perfectionist with myself and don’t need to put all that on my kids.

    This is really good advice, Lisa.

  • comment avatar Laughing Yoga Mama May 14, 2010

    Great tip, Amber. Staying calm ourselves makes a world of difference for the kids as well as moms. 🙂

    Lori, it can be so hard to remember to recognize those small steps along the way when we really want to get to that end result. I think it was Souza who said “happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Great advice for moms that helps us stay present in those small moments of parenthood, being gentle with our children as well as ourselves.

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