Getting a Child to Listen

Dear Parents,

Life would be so easy if our children listened to us and did as we instructed. We could keep them safe just by telling them what not to do. We could keep them healthy by telling them what to do. We could install good habits within them that would benefit them throughout their life. I know a few children who always follow their parent’s instructions, it is part of their DNA and I envy their mothers. Other parents need to work a bit harder, to have sharper parenting skills in order to achieve the same goals. Good parenting isn’t rocket science, it is much harder and more complicated than that.

In last week’s letter I wrote about putting toys away (Have special storage for toys and teach how to put them away). Today I will use the example of getting a child pick up toys to explain how to get children to do what you want them to do.

First, examine the situation. Are they deep into the play mode, or already board and moving away? Then, before you give instructions, say their name and wait for them to give you their attention. If they are busy in their play, let them know that you will be asking them to pick up their toys in a few minutes. If they are already done playing go ahead and ask then to put the toys away. *

If he starts to pick toys up as expected, give specific praise combined with information, such as ‘I’m glad you are putting all of your train parts in the bin. You will be able to find all of the track next time you want to play with it.’ Or ‘I see that you’ve all of your Legos in the shoe box. I’m so happy that they are not on the floor for me to step upon.’ Praise combined with information is a wonderful way to teach behavior and attitude because the praise gets their attention and makes them feel valuable while the information teaches the lessons you want them to learn.

What if he argues that he isn’t finished? You say ‘I understand that you would like to play longer, but it is time to get ready for bed (or whatever, some children just need to have a reason for an action). Or if time allows ‘I can see you are not quite finished. Would you like another 5 minutes?’ Isn’t that how you would like to be treated if you were interrupted mid project? You are teaching by your actions.

So far, we have reviewed the steps of 1 and 2 from last week: setting up the environment for good behavior and teaching the expected behavior. This week we’ve added: 3. Assessing the situation, 4. Clear communication 5. Specific praise combined with information 6. Listening and responding to your child. In next weeks letter I will address what to do when all of this doesn’t get the desired results because we all have those days.

Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed

*Some parents think they have given a clear instruction of ‘please pick up your toys’ when they have really said ‘Oh, I think you’ve played long enough. I was doing dishes so I let you play longer. Your mom is coming home soon so it’s just about time to clean up.’ Many children do not hear the second message as ‘put away your toys,’ in fact they have stopped listening half way though.

1 thought on “Getting a Child to Listen”

  1. Love the part in the PS where you say that “in fact they have stopped listening half way through.” That’s true of people in general. Learning to listen is a skill in itself, and something to practice all through life.


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