If you have ever cared for children, you know how challenging it is sometimes to get them to listen. Children ranging from toddlers to teens want attention and power with equal intensity. Their desire for attention means they would rather speak than listen to others. Similarly, their need for power means they resist receiving instruction and prefer to exert their power by doing what they want.
Children’s natural tendency towards agency and autonomy often manifests as them not listening to their parents or caregivers. As a result, parents feel frustrated and resort to punishing their children. But there is a better way. Rather than falling into the cycle of repeatedly punishing children for not listening, adults can find better strategies to speak to their children in a way that they will actually listen.
Sometimes adults unfairly blame children for not listening when they did not fully get their attention in the first place. For example, your children may not hear you if you give them instructions while watching their favorite cartoon or concentrating on a game. So, ensure that you get the child’s full attention by calling their name and ensuring that they are looking at you. You could even get down to their level physically and make eye contact to ensure that you have been heard and understood.
Young children have short attention spans, so you must give clear and brief instructions rather than long, drawn-out lectures. A long explanation of why what they did was wrong or dangerous is ineffective if you want them to listen. Instead, a brief statement reminding them of what they should be doing is sufficient.
How would you react if someone dismissed your feelings as irrelevant or childish? Would you listen to someone who constantly ignores you? In the same way, children feel hurt when people disregard their feelings and don’t pay attention to them. Acknowledging your child’s feelings regularly will lay the foundation for better communication because they will feel heard and will learn to listen to you because of how you listen to them.
So ensure you listen attentively and sympathetically to their stories. Help them name their feelings so they know you are really listening and you care. Engage in their fantasies no matter how silly, and in these ways, you will gain your child’s confidence while teaching them how to listen to others.
It is important for adults, especially parents, to resist labeling children as stubborn or difficult because they don’t listen. Part of raising children is acknowledging their humanity and teaching them to acknowledge the humanity of others. As such, the best way to help children listen better is to listen to them attentively and consistently so they can learn how to listen to you and others around them.
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