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How to Help Your Child Listen and Cooperate

How to Help Your Child Listen and Cooperate

Amanda T.'s preschool-aged daughter doesn't listen to her. “My daughter has just turned 4 and is a little madam," she explains. If I ask her to do something, or more importantly, ask her to stop doing something, she will either totally completely ignore me or laugh at me.”

This Circle of Moms member may not be making use of a key strategy for getting your child to really hear you and respond to a request you’ve made. That strategy? Reduce the number of commands you give at once.

Children can only truly listen to one command, or one request, or one correction, at a time. If you want them to have any hope of responding to your request, keep your instructions simple.


Too Much, Too Fast

Life is busy and moving fast. Because of that, most parents like to rattle off a list of requests, chores, to-do’s, and corrections all at once so they can go back doing the adult things they have to do. But doing that is counterproductive.

Sending that much information to a child all at once, regardless of age, causes them to unconsciously put up the “I’m not listening barrier.” This barrier allows a child to tune you out to protect herself from the onslaught of energy, emotion and information coming her way.

Children do hear what you’re saying, but they can’t process several commands at once, certainly not as fast as you can.

When you rattle off several requests at once about 60% of what you say gets lost or forgotten, and that’s frustrating. You assume your child is purposefully ignoring you, and that makes you mad. So you lop on even more information by threatening her with what will happen if she doesn’t listen or do as you say. Now her mind is overwhelmed. When a child feels overwhelmed she resorts to using defense mechanisms to protect herself and shut you out. She age appropriately either ignores or laughs at you, or cries.

The truth is parents can’t expect a child who is still learning and using immature thinking to process several rapid-fire requests at once. This is just how a child processes information during early childhood.


How to Help Your Child Listen and Cooperate

So what can be done?

1. Give one comment at a time.

Remember the old adage that less is more! Making one request at a time actually creates a much greater chance that you’ll be heard and your requests will be acted on.

2. Be sure to connect when you make a request.

Don’t parent remotely; walk to where your child is. Look her in the eye, reach out with a loving touch to get her attention, and say the one thing you want to say. When your child does what you asked, or you resolve the fact that she didn’t do as you asked, then and only then move on to your next request.

3. Create routines.

Create a routine list for your family’s morning, afternoon and evening routines. Younger kids should help you create the list and choose a photo to represent the action so you can talk about the process. Your list...

...doesn’t cause the “I’m not listening barrier” to be raised.

...introduces a child to the concept of routines, which are used in school.

...can be reviewed again and again to see what to do next.

...creates the perfect natural consequence. For instance, if your child gets to watch a video after getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth and she runs out of time, then there’s no video. This eliminates parental reminders and threats.

4. Use a calm, firm tone of voice.

Have you ever listened to your “correction” voice? You know the intense voice you use when correcting behavior? Think about what that sounds like to a child. If there is no blood or broken bones, is there really a need to use such an intense voice?

In order to get your child to hear you, think about the tones of voice you're most likely to respond too — an intense angry voice or a calm firm voice? Your child is no different.

Image Source: iStock Photo

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
This article piqued my interest - I have an almost 10 year old daughter who is becoming more and more belligerent. When we need to go out, she gives us a difficult time. When we ask her to put down the cat who is obviously not fond of being picked up, she totally ignores us. My husband yells, screams, and gets maniacal and this only scares her into hiding under our kitchen table. She seems to respond to my calmer demeanor but only sometimes. I will try to give her less to do, she is learning 3 instruments now, (piano - 4th year, violin - 3rd year, and clarinet at school - 1st year). She isn't in a sport although I think she should be active. She loves playing her music but she needs a lot of coaxing to practice. She is also starting to develop and I think this has a lot to do with her belligerence. I agree with the article in that yelling is not the answer and I will try going up to her and calmly putting my hand on her shoulder when I ask her to do something. If it doesn't, I will probably bang my head against a wall and try something else but I can't yell like a maniac; I was yelled at and treated like a subhuman as a kid so I can't do that to my kid.
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