What Should You Do When You Have Children Who Won't Listen?

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Answered by: Kami, An Expert in the Discipline and Behavior Category
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children who won't listen

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Pfft! No one ever said there was anything easy about being a parent. Parenting is fraught with concerns about, well, everything. But when you add "children who won’t listen" to the list of urgent items to address on your already overcrowded to-do list, you wouldn’t be the first to quietly question your ability as a parent.



But take heart! The good news is that children who won’t listen to parental requests haven’t all gone Lady Gaga by being “Born This Way.” Chances are that somewhere along the line - or, more accurately, in many places along the line - children who won’t comply with parental requests have simply learned that they don’t have to.

Children Who Won’t Listen Are Generally Given Little Motivation to Change



Professional caregivers and behavioral experts have learned that children who won't listen without a fight do so because they’ve learned a couple of things:

One: They know that any amount of cajoling, charming, whining or oppositional behavior will usually result in the parent giving in. The 8:30 p.m. bedtime morphs into a 9:00 p.m. bedtime because mom or dad is too tired to fight, the fifth plea for two extra cookies finally yields them, and the request to clean up toys will find them still scattered all over the family room floor long after the struggle is over. These children have learned that their parent or caregiver doesn’t really expect compliance. Parent: 0; child: 1.

Two: Children who don’t listen have learned that failing to comply with parental requests generally results in few, in any, consequences. And even if there are consequences for poor behavior, oftentimes the consequences are administered only sporadically. Parent: 0; child: 2.

How to Change Children Who Won’t Listen Into Ones Who Generally Do

To begin, first understand that children respect your word to the extent that you do. In other words, if your follow-through is generally weak, they’ll know, so consistency is key. It’s the old adage come to call: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. That’s because children (just like adults) want to know what’s expected of them, what their boundaries are, and what happens when they cross those boundaries.

Tell your children what you expect from them, whether it is calm voices, finished homework or respect for privacy. Underscore that you mean what you say by showing your children that there are consequences when we overstep our boundaries. As long as you communicate your expectations and consistently honor your word regarding consequences, this simple roadmap paves the way for a changeover from disobedience to compliance.

Offering Options

Some caregivers have found that a relatively simple approach for creating more compliance is to offer choices related to a request, such as:

A. Would you like to read a story with me before you get into bed at 8:00 p.m., or would you prefer to watch an episode of your favorite show?

B. Would you like to clean up your room now or would you like to do it after you finish your homework?

C. Would you prefer to give the dog a bath or to weed around the fence? What’s your choice?

Oftentimes these options give your child a sense of some control while also setting an expectation as a given.

What Should I Do If My Children Won’t Listen Even After I Try These Approaches?

If your children simply won’t comply with your requests, it is your job to enforce a consequence. Consequences for an action (or lack of action) are a fact of life, and if you don’t teach your children this valuable lesson, living in the real world will.

As each situation arises, you may need to spend some time thinking about the consequences that you feel are right for the situation, but here are a few examples to get you thinking:

     1. “You can clean up your room by Friday or you can stay home on Friday night instead of going out with your friends. It’s up to you.”

     2. “You can either help bring in the groceries now or you can skip TV, games and electronics tonight. Which do you prefer?”

     3. “You can choose to stop teasing your sister or you can give up your Xbox for the week. It’s your decision.”

In all cases, yelling, scolding or engaging in power struggles won’t gain you any ground when executing your strategy. Simply state your child’s options and let him choose.

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