- Family and Parenting
Why Don't Kids Listen? What To Do About it.
Why Don't They Listen?
Kids are just learning the rules of the life. Unless you teach them, they don't know the rule about having to listen. In other words, they aren't born knowing that they have to do what you ask them to do - they are born thinking that they're in charge. Ask any two year old and you'll find out rather quickly that toddlers believe YOU have to listen to THEM! ("I want water." "Ball" "Read me story now." These are just a few of the popular commands issued by this bossy group of little people.)
Kids, like older people, prefer to do what they want to do. If a child is reading a book, he wants to read it even though you asked him to close it and start his homework. So he may ignore your "request." If he's playing on the computer, he doesn't want to get off. The fact that you asked him to get ready for bed is irrelevant - just a nuisance to him really - he wants to do what he wants to do. Kids don't listen because it isn't convenient or pleasurable for them to do so. They'd rather do what they're doing or do something else entirely than cooperate with unpleasant parental demands. Parents are all about homework, eating dinner, cleaning up, brushing teeth, bedtime, and other necessary but un-fun activities. Kids would listen a whole lot better if parents asked them to come collect their cash and candy!
Although lack of desire to listen to a parent may cause an initial episode of "not listening" future episodes are maintained by parental behavior. Every kid will experiment to see if she can get away with not listening. Those who discover they can get away with it, will continue to not listen for many years to come.
How Parents Can Help Kids Listen
The secret to getting kids to listen is to make it even more unpleasant for them not to listen than to do what they are told.
Let's say that Mom has asked little Janice to put away her puzzle and come to the table for supper. Janice says, "soon" which means no time real soon. Mom let's this pass (thinking that maybe this time "soon" means "soon"). However, supper is cooling on the table and Janice is not showing up. So Mom asks her once again to put away the puzzle and come right now. This time Janice doesn't say anything, so Mom continues setting the table and serving the family, thinking that Janice is just about to show up. When Mom looks over a few minutes later, Janice is still busily playing with her puzzle! Now Mom shrieks: "How many times do I have to tell you to put away that puzzle and get to the table!" By ignoring Mom's request the few couple of times, Janice bought herself a good 8 minutes more of puzzle playing. Not a bad deal. O.K. Mom is a bit upset now, but that's a small price to pay for those extra precious moments of fun.
Now let's do it a different way. This time, when Janice answers "soon" Mom doesn't fall into the predictable trap. Instead, she says, "if you haven't put that puzzle away and gotten yourself to the table by the time I count to twenty, you won't be having any dessert tonight. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,.........."
If Janice doesn't hop to it, the price she will pay for not listening is her yummy dessert. This, for Janice, is a bad deal because she has a sweet tooth. (If she didn't have a sweet tooth, Mom would have to find a different consequence that would be very upsetting to Janice.) However, the first time Mom tries this strategy, Janice doesn't believe it will end badly, so she dawdles and plays with her puzzle for another 4 or 5 minutes before deciding to show up at the table. Mom let her play without comment. But once she arrives (late) at the table, Mom announces, "You're late. You aren't having dessert tonight." As long as Mom carries through with this declaration, Janice will learn to listen. If Mom caves, then Janice will remain a non-listener for a long time.
Unpleasant consequences for failing to listen solve the problem of "kids who don't listen." It's not really "kids who don't listen" so much as it is "parents who don't create unpleasant consequences for failing to listen." Negative consequences for not listening can be paired up with lots of praise for good listening. Reward for prompt listening can also be used. However, these forms of positive reinforcement are bonuses - not the whole story. Parents need to be willing to actually punish refusal to listen if they want that behavior to end. When parents use consistent consequences for failing to listen, kids will learn to listen! Some kids will learn the Listening Rule easily. Others will find it more challenging because of inborn characteristics. For instance, some kids are naturally strong-willed - they need to do things their way, in their own time. It will take longer to teach these kids that they must cooperate with parental requests. "Longer" means more episodes requiring more negative consequences; it does not mean "never." Strong-willed kids can become great listeners when they have consistent parenting. Similarly, children with attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) are sometimes inherently "listening challenged." This may be because of distractibility, attention deficits or difficulty with transitions. Whatever the cause, these children can also become excellent listeners when their parents consistently discipline lack of cooperation.
It's actually easier to get kids to listen than you might have thought and once you've accomplished this little trick in your house, your home life will be much more pleasant for all of you forever.