How many times as a parent have we said those very words to our child? I suppose an easier question to answer would be how many times a day have we said that to our child. Parents even use the word listen as a synonym for obeying.
“I put her into time out because she just wasn’t listening!“
When our child doesn’t “mind”, we often say they aren’t listening. But, what is listening? It is not just hearing the words you say, it is understanding their meaning and the message intended. It’s a fact, sometimes our kids don’t listen to us. It’s irritating when that happens but we have to ask ourselves if they know how to listen properly. A child doesn’t inherently know how to give their undivided attention, they have to be taught. Taking the time to teach them will save a lot of frustration for both parent and child.
To get your child’s attention to convey a message to them, get on their level. Think about how intimidating it would be for you to take instruction from someone three or four feet taller than you. Getting on eye level with them puts them more at ease and more ready to hear your words. Holding their hands will also help hold their attention. Their hands won’t be busy fidgeting if you are holding them. Make sure they make eye contact with you and then, in a normal tone of voice, firmly but gently explain what it is that you want them to hear. Don’t just tell them “don’t do this or that”, explain to them why. If a child knows that you fear for their safety if they hang upside down on the swing set they are more likely to obey your command to not do so. No and don’t are negative words. Put some positive words in there too.
“If you fell from the swings and hurt yourself it would make me sad. I love you so much and don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Have them repeat the instructions back to you to ensure that they not only heard you, but understand you. Then hug them and praise them for being a good listener.
It isn’t all about the words, however. I’ve mentioned before that children learn more by what you show them than what you tell them. How well do you listen to them? When your child runs up to you excited to tell you something, do you give them your undivided attention? When they are telling you a story are you looking them in the eye or staring at your phone? Are you partly listening while still keeping an eye and ear on the television program you’re watching?
If we want our children to listen to us, and hear our words, and comply with the message, we should teach by example. Give them your undivided attention for the few minutes they need to feel as though what they are saying is important to you too. Doing that will not only teach them the vital skill of listening, but it builds trust too. If your child can’t trust you with the little things in their young lives, they won’t trust you with the big things when they’re older.
Always keep the lines of communication open with your child and teach them by example the way to really listen to someone speaking to them, and not just hear their words.