When your child never listens, it can be frustrating beyond belief. Often this can lead to parents blowing a fuse, or simply just giving up on whatever they are trying to communicate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few little tweaks in the way we talk to our children and being mindful of where they are coming from, amazingly you can cut through the noise and communicate with them in a way that will actually be taken notice of.
In the first in our three-part series with Dr Alison McClymont, leading child psychologist with over a decade worth of experience at the forefront of children’s mental health, we take a closer look at strategies you can incorporate into your parenting when your child never listens.
What parent doesn’t get frustrated with the “repeat, remind cycle” when your child never listens? If you are not familiar with this, let me set the scene:
Parent “Can you please tidy this mess up in here?”
Child (carries on playing)
Parent “ Darling can you do that for me please?
Child (carries on playing)
Parent “Are you listening?! I said tidy up!”
Sound more familiar now? As a parent, there are few things more frustrating than needing to get out the door and telling your child for the fourth or fifth time to put their shoes on, go to the bathroom, or get their coat. So how can you get our children to actively listen to us and engage when it feels like your child never listens – in the process, making a generally happier and more harmonious home?
When a child never listens think about the following:
What is the “distraction?”
Assuming that you have checked all the necessary auditory processing skills and that you are confident that your child is actively choosing NOT to listen rather than finding it hard or impossible to do so – let’s turn our attention to what your child is choosing not to pay attention to.
Is it an instruction that takes them away from an activity they enjoy – such as playing? Is it an instruction that reminds them to share with a sibling and they may be experiencing some jealousy or anger? Is it a request to stop doing something that channels an emotion in some way – such as repetitive or destructive behaviour channeling anxiety or anger? Observe the times your child is actively “not listening”- and ask, what is it they want to control at this moment? And more importantly what do they get out of ignoring this instruction?
Acknowledge the “power imbalance”
Rare is the child who doesn’t experience frustration or outright anger at the “unfairness” of being told what to do by adults. Little people are often reminded by the world just how little power they have and might have daydreams about what they will do when they “grow up” and the power becomes theirs.
It’s inappropriate to offer control to children in situations where they cannot be responsible for their safety or those around them. It is also inappropriate to offer them to set boundaries that they cannot cognitively handle – such as deciding how much TV is “too much” or what is considered a “balanced diet”.
If your child never listens, you can however offer little “pieces of power” throughout the day, offer a choice between meals or clothes options, offer choice on activities or the order of schedule for the day, or things to watch on TV or books to read. All children want to feel a little bit of control and this can help with defiance or obstruction in other areas
Use “please” rather than “don’t”, and don’t forget “thank you!”
When forbidding or giving a “don’t” instruction for behaviour you are requiring a child to consider the action they need to stop and think about what the action should be replaced with – in order to prevent confusion, explain the action you would like to see. For example, “Don’t throw your toys” could be phrased as “Please be gentle with your toys”, or “Don’t leave a mess in here” could become “Please put the toys in the basket when you’ve finished playing, thank you”.
Humour is always a good teaching tool
Whilst it’s not always easy to find the energy to play the clown, it is one of the best ways to engage children to get them to listen and perform a task. Where possible make a game of an activity such as tidying up or getting dressed and watch the difference in the attentiveness and responsiveness of your children
This can be an easy one to forget but it can make a big impact when your child never listens. When we come down to a child’s level and really try to engage them with eye contact and gentle touch, this can help focus their attention on you and absorb what it is you are saying.
If your child never listens, be mindful and experiment with these five points, and observe how reframing the way you communicate with your child can make all the difference.
About Dr Alison McClymont
Dr Alison McClymont is a leading child psychologist with over a decades worth of experience at the forefront of children’s mental health. Keep up to date with her on social media @AlisonMcClymontInsta.