What to do when your young child does not listen

My little one does not listen to me; what should I do? My child is always distracted; how do I get his attention? How do I make my child do what I say? Are you struggling with your child not listening to you? Try these simple techniques to make your child obey you.

One of the commonest complaints parents make against young children is that they do not listen to them. I don't have the numbers, but I am sure that the percentage of such children must be very high. Parents are often unsure whether their child is not listening intentionally, or if it is part of their growing up phase.

It is a familiar scene that unfolds in every house; you ask your child to do something, and the child either ignores the request or point-blank refuses to comply. You ask nicely, and you get the same response. You address them by their full name and raise your voice a notch, to show you mean business, but they still do not budge. You try coaxing them to do what you want, with no luck.

Infuriation vs. gentle discipline

Infuriated by their stubborn disobedience, you react and put your discipline techniques into practice. You send them to their room – with a strict order of no television or maybe no going out to play in the evening. The child remains obstinate and stands his ground, and throws a tantrum. Does that sound like something you face every other day?

It is easy to lose your cool under the given circumstances. After all, you expect better behaviour from your child. These aren't the values that you've been stressing upon your young child. And yet, becoming angry is not the right approach. Rather than resorting to punishment, a better approach would be to use an emotional connection to discipline the child. This approach helps in raising a confident child.

A discipline that's an offshoot of anger does more harm than good. It stems more from the need to control than from a need to teach ethical values. To discipline a child lay stress upon teaching and learning, instead of upon punishment. When you practice the former, you lay the foundation for proper grounding, when you practice the latter, you create an environment for rebellion.

You must focus on pragmatic, age-appropriate solutions. Be patient, empathetic and watchful. Explain rules and boundaries and work within those parameters. Learn to create an environment that'll give results. Your attitude must inspire the child rather than inhibit him.

Let's get started on what you can do when your child doesn't listen –

Give clear commands of what you want done

Tell your child exactly what you want him to do. A specific command is much easier to follow than something vague. You may think you always give specific commands; you tell your child to stop doing something, and that in your eyes is specific enough.

Let's revisit that – I'll illustrate my point through an example. You ask your child to stop running. 'Please stop running' you say. You think you have given a clear command, but it can be baffling to a child. The thing that parents don't take note of is that the child does not possess the aptitude for logical reasoning. Your command of don't run leaves so much unsaid.

What is it that you expect from the child? Do you want him to crawl or skip or stand in one place? The instruction should be precise - instead of 'don't run' try 'please walk'. Let what you want your child to do be more meaningful.

Instead of saying, 'don't litter the place' say, 'throw the rubbish in the dustbin'. Your instruction must be about what you want them to do, rather than what you don't want them to do. Don't leave them thinking about what they must do; offer them solutions with each command. It is more constructive and productive.

Keep it short

It is imperative to keep the instructions both clear and concise. Young children cannot filter through commands and follow them in sequential order. You will have to keep it simple and break it down to single commands. Don't load the child with a string of commands; you'll confuse him. Give him one precise instruction and let that register in his brain. Allow him time to focus on that task. Your child's brain is not wired to work like an adults' brain, so don't make comparisons.

When you give too many commands to a young child, you muddle his brain. Go slow and steady, and you'll see results. Try saying, 'Get your shoes'; when the child brings them, say, 'Can you put them on, please'. It is a more effective way of getting things done than giving two commands in one sentence.

Engage in positive commands

Children follow positive commands better than negative commands. So, instead of telling your little one to stop shouting, ask him to say what he wants in a softer voice. Let your command conversations be about 'do this' instead of 'don't do that'.

Positive commands are clear instructions; the child knows what to do. Negative orders don't provide complete instructions. You tell your kid not to shout, but he continues to because he wants you to hear him. The child's brain probably doesn't realise that you can still listen to him when he speaks softly. So, he continues to shout and scream. When you say, keep your voice down, it automatically translates into an instruction, which is concise and easy to follow. If you want your child to listen to you, tell him what to do rather than what not to do.

Make it a fun exercise

It is so easy to make young children listen when you make it fun. A child loves to learn new things, every child by nature loves to explore and experiment, and we, as adults, can help them make those discoveries by communicating in the right way. When a child doesn't listen, it is probably your fault. Either you do the things describe above, or you do not take the time to connect and bond with your child.

The play-way method is the best way to teach your child stuff. Make the activity fun, rather than a chore. You want your child to put away his toys after he has done playing. Why not make a game of it. Say, I'll count till ten, let's see how fast you can pick up your toys. For an older child, change the counting to time. Let's see you clean your room in five minutes. Throw them a challenge and watch them go for it.

Your child's playing with the food on his plate, tell him he has ten minutes to finish it, and then you and he can watch his favourite cartoon, or you can read him a book. Keep the child excited about doing things, set his goals, and you'll have him listening to you.

Relate to them

Don't forget that your child is a person, he may be little, but he is still a little human, with feelings. Don't speak to him as if he and his feelings don't count. Don't forget the 'please' and the 'thank you'. Parents can often use a very authoritative tone when addressing their child. 'I said NOW'. 'Listen to me'. 'Look at me'. 'Don't let me have to ask you again'. The list is endless.

You wouldn't speak like that to a stranger, so why do you give your child such a harsh attitude. Try being nice. Instead of telling him you want him to do something NOW, you can say 'stop what you are doing and do this for me, please. It will only take ten minutes'. If the child whimpers and whines, tell him, he has to it, and now is the right time. He can continue with what he is doing after he finishes the job. 'Come on, let's get it done' sounds so much better than 'I said now'.

Conscious approach to parenting

Parenting is not about barking orders and seeing that the child obeys them. It also involves a little reflection. You cannot be a good parent without analysing why your child does not listen to you. These three questions will help you take a mindful approach –

Why won't my child listen to me?

View the situation from the child's perspective. Is it possible that the child is behaving in an age-appropriate manner, but you've set very high expectations? Tune your expectations to the child's mental age. Your high-expectations can leave him feeling overwhelmed.

Is there a problem?

Identify the reasons behind your child's behaviour. Children who display behavioural issues do so because of underlying problems. What could be the reason behind your child's behaviour? Maybe he seeks attention. He may be frightened. What is he trying to tell you?

What values am I pushing?

Recognise the values you want to teach your child through discipline. Try setting an example. If you don't want the child to watch television while eating, then make sure you don't do the same either. Discipline becomes easier to push when you act as a role model.

If you tidy up after yourself, you'll encourage the child to do the same. If you read to the child, the child will learn to enjoy books. If you listen to the child when he speaks, the child will learn to listen to you when you do the same.

Be a patient parent. No one said parenting would be simple. Enjoy every moment of your child's childhood and work with your child. He needs your support and guidance and a lot of love and understanding. You'll get there together; you're on the same team.


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