How often do you say something to your kids, and you are completely ignored? Or they know what they are supposed to do…but it doesn’t happen?
It makes your job as a parent much more difficult when your kids don’t listen to you. It’s frustrating, upsetting, and really tiring. Maybe you end up yelling in order to be heard, and then everyone feels bad.
It’s totally understandable…but here’s the problem…
Threatening consequences and yelling actually lessen your influence and create more power struggles. If you try to make your children cooperate through coercion, you’ll damage your relationship, and this is counterproductive.
I’ll share some suggestions below on how to calmly connect and engage cooperation with your children. But I first want to point out something significant:
It’s hard to be calm when your kids don’t listen!
Why is this so hard?
Let’s be real. It’s not easy to show up as the calm parent you want to be when you’ve got responsibilities, schedules, tons to do, and a lot to worry about.
There also might be something deeper going on….
We all want to be heard, appreciated and respected. These are core human needs. Most of us have had experiences as children or in significant relationships where we didn’t feel heard.
When you were a child, did you feel truly heard and appreciated by your parents? Or were your thoughts and feelings mostly discounted or ignored?
This is one of the reasons why it feels so bad when our kids don’t listen to us. It can bring up this deep longing to be heard that was never met.
When your child ignores you or fights back against your requests, it may bring up some unresolved feelings that can show up as anger and yelling. In this triggered state you may want to try to solve it with threats or consequences.
Develop intrinsic motivation
You may think your kids should do what you say when you say it. But kids are humans – and humans naturally resist being bossed around.
I imagine what you really want is for them to want to cooperate with you – on their own accord – because it feels good to them to do so. Because they truly want to help. This is intrinsic motivation. To develop intrinsic motivation in your kids, you need to have a relationship with them that is based on connection. Your children need to be connected with you in an ongoing safe space where they feel seen, heard and understood.
Brain research shows that people are more open to another person’s influence if they feel connected to them. If your kids don’t feel connected to you, they’ll likely be resistant to your rules and guidance.
Your effectiveness as a parent is in direct proportion to the strength of the secure attachment and connection you have with your child. Anything that undermines this is counterproductive.
There’s a lot to understand about creating a respectful, cooperative, connected relationship with your kids, and I go deep into this in my coaching program. It’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight, since changing patterns can take time.
If you’ve been relying on threats, punishment, rewards or yelling to get your child to listen and cooperate, you can expect some bumps as you form a new way of relating. Over time you can establish trust and create lasting respect and cooperation. The rewards are huge.
In the meantime…
How do you get your child’s attention?
You may be competing with a lot of things to get your child’s attention. Most of the time they want to cooperate, but kids have priorities of their own and a lot on their little minds. They can get overwhelmed with all the stimulation in their world and may need to tune out. And they can get pretty wrapped up in their play or whatever they are doing, to a point where they block out everything else – including your voice.
The most effective way to engage cooperation with anyone is to first calmly connect and then make a request. This is especially true for children. Instead of raising your voice to communicate your demand from across the room, walk over to them and enter their world for a moment.
Get down on their level if needed. Put your hand on their arm and make eye contact before you say gently in a calm voice, “Hey, _____.”(your child’s name.)
If they’re engaged in a project of some sort, first make a comment about what they’re doing. This is a subtle way to let them know you understand how important this project or play is to them. If they don’t look up from their project or play, you might say “can I tell you something?”
Once you have eye contact, make your request or say what you want to say. Use as few words as possible when you give instructions to keep it simple and clear.
It’s helpful to acknowledge how much they want to continue what they are doing. “I know it’s so hard to stop in the middle of something. I can see you’re having fun. And now it’s time to…….”
A great way to invite cooperation is by being playful. Children love it when they get to do things playfully. You could use a hand puppet or a favorite toy to get their attention and talk. There are many fun ways to get your child into the bathroom to brush their teeth or to get their shoes on to get out the door – through make pretend play. Be creative and lighten it up as much as you can.
Model good listening in your family
The best way to get kids to listen to you is to model good listening in your family. If you want them to listen to you when you need them to, stop what you’re doing and listen to them when they want to tell you something.
You can find opportunities to actively listen to them.
Learn What to Do to Resolve Your Child’s Troubling Behavior
Understand the cause of the behavior
Know what to do for yourself in those really stressful parenting moments
Know what to do for your child to bring them back to calm and cooperation
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