Often find yourself repeating instructions like these for the umpteenth time at home? You’re not alone. One of the most frustrating challenges parents face is communicating with children who refuse to listen to them.
So, why is my child ignoring me?
To put things in perspective, our child may not be ignoring us on purpose. In some cases, he/she is more likely distracted by the surroundings or devices they have on hand. Children, especially younger ones, have limited peripheral awareness and may inevitably tune out on parents, especially when we do not keep requests short and specific.
This leads some parents to yell at their children to capture their attention. However, this may not be the best mode of communication – it may result in “escalation traps”, whereby children only act upon their parents’ screams because they have internalised these as action cues over time. It may also develop into a dysfunctional pattern of communication – studies have shown that yelling, just like physical punishments, has detrimental effects on children. Verbally aggressive parenting may also lead to lower self-esteem, greater aggression and increased likelihood of depression in children.
In other cases, our child may indeed be ignoring us intentionally, and this is often a manifestation of their need for power – one of the main motivators of humans of all age. When children do not experience autonomy in positive ways (e.g. deciding what clothes to wear or deciding what to eat), they may attempt to exert their power in a negative manner, such as by choosing not to listen to parents. By doing so, children feel in control of themselves and are able to affirm their ability to make decisions. It may also get them the attention they desire and feel is lacking from their parents.
The home environment matters too. When parents are caught in the cycle of negative directives (e.g. saying “No”, “Stop” or “Don’t”), children may feel that their parents are demanding or exerting control over them. It is therefore crucial to phrase our statements calmly and positively – like how we make requests to others – so that children feel respected and in control. Only then will they be more accepting and receptive to what parents say.
If children can get away with misbehaving or not following instructions (e.g. parents cleaning up their child’s room eventually), they may be unintentionally reinforced to ignore parents in future situations.
What should I do so that my child starts to listen?
Start by listening to our child. All of us wish to be heard and respected. When we adopt the right behaviour ourselves and listen to our child, they will model after us and do likewise. We may also start to understand other reasons behind our child’s behaviour.
Get on our child’s level and make eye contact. This helps to gather their attention and strengthens communication. It is also far more effective than yelling.
For every “No”, say “Yes” to your child five times. Saying “Yes” to our child helps to shift behaviour in the right direction and make the overall home environment more positive and respectful. Not only will you be connected with them, but children will also start listening too. Try to use “No”, “Stop” or “Don’t” only when it concerns their safety or if immediate attention is needed.
E.g., Child: “Can I go out and play?”
Parent: “No, do your homework.” (X)
Parent: “That sounds great! Let’s finish your homework first, and then you can go out and play.” (√)
Phrase statements clearly and calmly, in the form of a request and not an order. No one likes to be ordered around. Children want to feel in control of themselves too and not as something owned by their parents. It is also beneficial to explain the rationale behind our requests so that children are more receptive and understanding.
Thank our child in advance and compliment them afterwards. It is preemptive and much more encouraging than warning our child to behave in a certain way. Always show appreciation and affirm your child for his/ her efforts and when he/ she listens to you. It serves as a positive reinforcement for them to continue good behaviour.
Mete out consequences specific to misbehaviour. Instead of carrying out generic punishment, specify consequences for misbehaviour and mete out these consequences if need be. However, be mindful not to be swayed by personal emotions.