Behavior – why won’t my child listen?

November 4, 2014
Why won't my child listen?  I am probably asked this question several times a week.  Sometimes I ask myself this question about my own daughter.  It's a loaded question.  To understand why your child is not listening, you first have to understand what behavior is and why/how it occurs.

First and foremost, behavior is a form of communication.  This is so important to always remember, so I'm going to say it again.  Behavior is a form of communication.  What is your child trying to tell you/communicate to you?   Behaviors can serve more than 1 function at a time.  This is where it get s a little tricky for parents.   ChristineSzeto_crpd
Behaviors occur for the following reasons:

  1. To gain something - they may be seeking your attention or trying to obtain something tangible (object)
  2. To avoid or escape something - they don't want to do it or they want to get out of it
  3. For sensory stimulation - it can be sensory stimulation to meet an internal need or to try and get rid of painimages-8

So, when you're asking yourself, "Why won't my child listen?"  Think about why behaviors occur in the first place.  Again, what are they trying to tell you?  Once you determine why the behavior is occurring, it's easier for you to address the behavior.  It's all about being a detective.  
How to get your child to listen:Mother-child_1964410b

Listen to them.  Kids tell us all sorts of things through not only verbal communication, but non-verbal communication as well.  If your child is starting to get antsy while at a restaurant, identify with them.  "It looks like you're ready to go?"  "As soon as we pay our check, we can leave."

Keep the message short and concise.  "Get your backpack and get in the car." is a direct message.  "It's almost time to go to school, you might want to get your backpack and then meet me in the car."  There is no urgency in the second statement and the child may interpret that he/she can do it when they're ready.  Keep it short, sweet, and simple.  

Keep your expectations reasonable.  This one can be kind of tricky.  You know your child, you can read their mental state.  If you are asking your child to do something when they are completely exhausted or over-stimulated, you may want to rethink your expectation and give them something they can handle.

Ensure their success.  This kind of goes along with the one above.  But sometimes our kids need our help.  If there are toys spread all over the living room and you ask them to pick them up (and yes they made the mess), they may get overwhelmed, as there are just too many toys.  Ensure their success by saying, "You pick up these toys and I will pick up these toys."  We all want a little success, right?  That's what motivates us.  

Mean what you say, and say what you mean.  Don't use threats or negotiate with your child.  If you tell them they can't go to the park if they don't take a nap, then do not go.  When we say something to our children and don't follow through, this sends them mixed messages.  This also discredits our authority in the future.  So, be careful what you say.  If you don't think you will follow through with it, don't say it.  Keep the expectation of yourself reasonable too.

Find the positives.  Lets face it, no one likes to be yelled at, or told "no", "stop doing that", etc. all the time.  Catch them being good!  "I really like the way you're eating your lunch", "I like how you put your toys away".  Believe it or not, kids like to please.  They like to feel proud of themselves and feel good about what they can do.  

It's okay to say "no".  I don't know where along the way we decided it wasn't a good idea to tell our kids no, but it's not realistic and it's not healthy.  "No, it is not okay for you to run in the street".  "No, it's not okay for you to hit your brother".  Telling our kids no doesn't mean we are a bad parent.  It means we are setting boundaries, limits, and expectations for our child.  

Don't ask, tell.  I'm guilty of this all the time.  As I pick up a child from their parent I will often ask, "Are you ready to go play?"  Of course their answer is usually, "no, not yet."  Unfortunately, in this situation I have to respect their answer.  Why?  Because I asked.  If you want your child to do something, tell them.  When I'm on my game, I will say, "It's time to go play".  

Give them some control.  Many people may not agree with this, but we all have some control of what happens to us, what we do, how we do it, etc.  Kids don't have a lot of control (unless you are talking about toileting and eating) over  anything.  Sometimes giving them a little control will make a huge difference, plus it gives them a sense of independence.  For example, if you want your child to pick up their toys and take a bath, give them a choice as to what happens first.  "Do you want to take a bath or pick up your toys?"  

Check your emotions.  Our children feed off of what we are feeling.  If we are stressed and high strung, chances are they will act the same way.  Identify how you are feeling and if that could be contributing to your child's actions/behaviors.  

Model good behavior.  None of us are perfect.  We all have bad days where we do or say things we wish we hadn't.  If you want your child to demonstrate good behavior, you have to show them good behavior.  If you do slip up and they witness it, talk to them about how you should have handled the situation.

I realize it's a long list.  Behaviors are complicated, there is no doubt about it!  Start with identifying what your child is trying to tell you.  Pick one or two of the suggestions above and start implementing them into your daily interactions with your child.  Don't be hard on yourself if you're not successful.  Identify why you weren't successful and keep that in mind the next time around.  

And for my soapbox…..never, ever, tell your child he/she is "bad".  This is one of my biggest pet peeves.  No child is ever "bad".  They make "bad" choices (just like us) from time-to-time, but it's our response to those choices which is going to shape future behavior and how they view themselves.  Choices have consequences, not only consequences for us, but for others too.  (My dear friend Maria has coined this term)

Remember, life is a journey!  We learn from our experiences, good and bad.  Ask yourself again, "Why won't my child listen?".  I bet you have a different answer than when you first started reading.  Best of luck! 

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