Updated: Dec 8, 2020
So, you’ve asked nicely, then asked a little less nicely, and then asked more firmly before you finally lose it and scream, “WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO MOMMY?!?!?”
Today, I’m tackling how to get your child to listen the first time you ask them to do something.
How many of us catch ourselves repeating the same directive to our kids 2, 3, 5 times before they actually seem to listen to us? It’s extremely frustrating, but it can be dangerous too! What if your child is running into the street as a car is approaching? When you say “STOP,” they must STOP the FIRST time you say it because the second time might be too late.
Getting your kiddos to listen when you first address them can be a tricky endeavor, but it doesn’t have to result to yelling. There are three factors I’m going to discuss, and if you start applying them, they will help reduce (or better, eliminate) the frequency which you feel you have to resort to screaming at your kids. They are:
2) Parental Follow-Through
3) Parental Consistency
Warnings: What to Do (& Not Do)
A “warning” is when you inform your child that if they don’t change their current behavior, a specific consequence will ensue. The problem with “warnings” is that parents fall into the trap of giving multiple warnings, or warnings that are not attached to a specific behavior.
As a rule of thumb, you should only give your child ONE warning, and that warning should be very specific. Let’s look at some examples:
Example # 1
Kelly is throwing a ball around in the house. Mommy says, “Kelly, stop doing that.” Kelly continues. Mommy raises her voice, “Kelly, I said stop that!” Kelly keeps going. Mommy raises her voice more, stating, “Kelly, stop it or you’re going to get in trouble!” Kelly keeps going. Mommy, now frustrated, takes the ball away, “I told you to stop! Why don’t you listen to me?!?!”
Example # 2
Kelly is throwing a ball around in the house. Mommy says, “Kelly, stop throwing the ball in the house or I will take the ball away.” Kelly keeps going. Mommy takes the ball from Kelly, saying, “Because you were throwing the ball around in the house and you didn’t follow my directions when I asked you to stop throwing the ball, I’m taking the ball away.”
Reviewing Example # 1
This is a classic picture of what a lot of parents will experience. In this example, Mom gives Kelly 3 warnings before enacting the discipline. Her third warning is also very vague regarding what the consequence will be. Parents who tend to give multiple warnings will typically have kids who don’t listen the first time a directive is given.
Children are very smart; they are biologically wired to learn patterns of behaviors from their caregivers. As such, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out how many warnings their parents will give before they have to take their parents seriously. Furthermore, the warnings are vague. They fail to tell Kelly what behavior she is supposed to stop. Kids are great at looking for loopholes in our household rules.
I’ve had kids in therapy that will say things like, “I thought you wanted me to stop jumping. I didn’t know that you wanted me to stop throwing the ball.” To prevent this, being specific in your warnings is helpful in increasing the likelihood that your child will listen to your directions.
Reviewing Example # 2
Example # 2, by contrast, shows Mom giving only 1 warning. The warning is also very specific about what behavior the mom is looking for and what the consequence will be. A child who grows up knowing that he only gets 1 warning is much more likely to listen to his parent the first time the directive is given. The child knows that he won’t get a second chance at it. This example also shows the parental follow through, which is a very important part of effective discipline. This leads us to our next point….
Parental Follow-Through Is Critical
Have you ever told your child something to the effect of, “If you don’t stop XYZ, then we’re going home?” Or maybe, “If you don’t start listening to me, I’m taking your (fill in the blank) away for the rest of the week?”
Maybe you’ve never said these things, but you probably know someone who has. These statements aren’t necessarily bad. They are just prone to poor follow through from parents.
Let’s face it, if you paid $200+ for your family to go to Disneyland, or just finished ordering your meal at a restaurant (but haven’t eaten yet), are you really going to leave because your child is acting up? Probably not…. Same thing for taking away objects that you rely on to keep your child settled in different environments.
Parental follow through means that when you give your child a warning and list a specific consequence, you need to be ready to actually do what you just said you would do! This is one of the biggest traps parents I work with get into. They threaten consequences that they can’t actually follow through with.
This same principle applies to rewards too. If you tell your child that a certain behavior will elicit a specific reward, then you need to actually follow through with that too. Failure to follow through renders your words meaningless and frequently leads to kids who don’t listen when their parents are trying to discipline them.
I also want to note that everything I just mentioned here can be accomplished without yelling at your children. Once your child begins to understand that they only get ONE warning, they will start to follow directions more promptly. The outcome will be in you feeling less stressed and less likely to result to yelling.
Parental Consistency is Key
This item goes hand-in-hand with Parental Follow-Through. This is how well you do with being consistent on upholding your warnings on a day-to-day basis. If on Monday, you give a warning of a Time-Out and do a great job of following-through, that’s definitely a success. Unfortunately, however, it will do little to getting your kids to listen to you without yelling if you fail to keep it up on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. You have to be consistent about being consistent! You must follow through on a daily basis in order to teach your kiddos that Mommy means business when she gives a warning. If you can manage all 3 of these items, you’ll be well on your way to a happier home-life!
***Note: This article was originally posted as part of the "Trials of the Working Parent" Blog Book Tour on 9/5/2017 at "The Pragmatic Parent." It is now being re-posted here.