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Why don't you listen?


During the last couple of weeks, we have heard one sentence more than any other from our clients. That is "my child/ren don't listen to me/ us!" It is still the beginning of a new school year in the Southern hemisphere and in the northern one, children have just had the disruption to focus caused by the mid term break.

Listening is a skill that children develop at different rates and stages. Whilst there are cases where a child's hearing is impaired or their ability to process information and act on it is a cause for concern, in the VAST majority of cases it is simply about how to help your child ( of any age) to become a better listener. Unfortunately, a part of that is having realistic expectations of when your child is / is not likely to listen to what you have to say. To help you figure that part out here are Kids on Track's 5 top tips to creating a better listening environment for your child.

1) ALLOW TIME WITHOUT DEMANDING LISTENING: We live in a world where most adults struggle to keep up with the pace and yet we expect are children to be on the go from the minute they wake up until lights out. Their routines are set by their parents and teachers and from the time they open their eyes in the morning, there are expectations that need to be met. These may be social, academic, chores around the house, after school commitments and even play dates. The result is that children have limited time to just be themselves and give their brain a chance to unwind. Generally, the time that parents are asking something to a child is when their child is " not doing anything but playing / reading watching TV." The problem is that this "playing" is the only time in their day with no demands from anyone. If you can build 20-30 minutes before and after school where your child has free time without demands from you, they are more likely to listen, in any other free time they may have.

2) STYLE OF COMMUNICATION: Children are very busy and are used to being over stimulated in many environments. The side effect of this is that they get very good at blocking out the stimuli they want to ignore. If you want communication with your child to be conducive to them listening, think about how you want to be spoken to, Consider the tone of voice, how far you are from them, are they at your level and do they understand what you are actually asking. Whilst this sounds like a very minor thing, it can transform your child's desire to listen to what you are saying to them.

3) MANY PEOPLE STRUGGLE TO MULTI TASK: How many times have you asked your partner to do something and find they have completely ignored you? Now think back to the time that you asked them..... were they actually at work, watching TV, reading the paper? If so, chances are they said yes and had every good intention but then went back to the prior activity! The ability to listen whilst doing something else requires your child to be able to:

  • Break focus on the activity in front of them

  • Hear what you are saying

  • Go back to what they were doing

  • Finish what they were doing

  • Remember exactly what you asked of them

  • Do exactly what you asked of them

Being that many adults can't achieve this, we are expecting a lot from children. If you ask them things when they are not busy with something else, you are likely to get a much better response!

4) PICK YOUR BATTLES: Whilst of course, as parents you are in charge, there are times where you need to ask yourself how vital it is that your child listens RIGHT NOW. Sometimes, less is more. If your child feels that the demands on them from you and others never cease, they will unlikely be responsive and can't tell the difference between when something is urgent or nice to have. If you feel that your child is being particularly tricky when it comes to listening, take 2 weeks where you limit your requests. You are likely to see a big improvement.

5) POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT: If you find that much of what you are asking your child for, they aren't listening to, try to make it more attractive for them. Using visual schedules for weekday chores including homework that includes a reward at the end gives you a win on 2 counts. The first is that you don't have to repeat yourself as it is there is black and white and the second is that they feel they are achieving something. No one in the world is happy to continually do something for nothing and that can often be how a child feels when they are being asked all the time to do things that they don't see an immediate benefit to. As more of these expectations become routine, you can set new goals for the same "price."

Many of the issues of children not listening are as simple as being intuitive about where they are up to in their heads and if they have the capacity to listen at that stage. By having realistic expectations about that, you may find that the stress you feel about it is significantly reduced!