It may be typical to have trouble getting your kids to listen. But if your child is making a habit of intentionally ignoring your directions, they need to know that isn’t okay. Selective hearing starts early. Do you find you ask your toddler over and over to take his fingers out of his nose. Or her hands out of her pants? Or face out of the dog’s bowl? Does your preschooler need multiple reminders to get dressed for school or get her shoes or hair ties? When you frequently ignore this “delayed obedience,” you are sending a message that YOU are not really in charge. Like The Kinks sang 45 years ago, “It’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world”. Therefore, lots of people today have lost the understanding of the significance of requiring first time obedience from their children. It is absolutely reasonable to expect your child to listen and obey most of the time. This is the way God expects us to obey Him, and it’s the way we need to expect our children to obey us.
If this isn’t happening in your home, here are a few ideas that may help you out:
1. Set the expectation.
“Boys, we are going to the park later today. Let’s talk about the kinds of things we can do when we are there to stay safe and have fun!”. Help them brainstorm what they CAN do (rather than CAN’T) so they can get images of all the SAFE and things TO do. Some of these may include:
- Climbing up the ladder and sliding down the slides feet first with legs together. (Show them and have them show you what that looks like).
- Coming when Mom calls the first time (and practice this often).
- Going when Mom says GO and stopping when Mom says STOP (and practice this often).
- Throwing and catching a ball.
- Running on the grass.
- Walking on the sidewalk.
- Watching out for people and dogs so you can stay safe (and out of their way).
- Sitting down next to Mom while eating.
- Cleaning up after yourself when finished.
- Putting trash in the can before playing again.
- Going with Mom to the bathroom (so they don’t go alone!)
2. Resist the urge to repeat.
When we repeat instructions often, we teach them to NOT listen to us the first time. They learn through this regular communication that they only have to listen when we get really angry.
Imagine this scenario: You’re trying to get everyone out the door. You tell your kids to get their shoes and move toward the car as you continue getting together the million things (It seems like it, right?!) that you need to get together to get out the door. You notice they just moved rooms, but haven’t yet gotten their shoes. So you tell them again, and continue getting everything loaded up. You turn around and they STILL don’t have their shoes on. WHAT?!?!?!? You (almost) lose your mind and say (a bit loudly): “What did I tell you to do?! Get your shoes on and get in the car!!!!” And they do. Finally.
What you have taught them is that they don’t have to listen the first couple times you tell them…not until you (almost) lose your mind do they REALLY have to obey. Look, we’ve ALL been there – but it’s time to DO IT DIFFERENTLY!!!
This old way is NOT OK for YOU and NOT OK for THEM!
Therefore, it is essential that when you FIRST tell them to “get their shoes and move toward the car,” that you pause from doing what you are doing and check to make sure they are doing it! If they are not, you walk over to them, make eye contact and say, “I told you to get your shoes and move toward the car. I expect you to do that now.”
Once you start reinforcing what you tell them to do THE FIRST TIME, they will be more likely to DO IT because that becomes the expectation.
Just a reminder: Stop. Breathe. Pray! It is difficult when you just want them to DO WHAT YOU SAY the first time! And that is a RIGHT desire. But we need to TEACH them to do that. They are sinners – just like you – and cannot be expected to do this the right way, unless you teach them the right way. But you CAN do this!
3. Follow through as consistently as possible
So, if you set the expectations clearly, have practiced them, and you know they know them, WHAT do you do when they DON’T do what you’ve told them and they practiced?
THIS is the part that is hardest, because pretty much none of us enjoys disciplining our children. BUT, know that “discipline” actually means “to teach” and as you NEED TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN THE RIGHT WAY! Therefore, when you set the expectation of behavior, you also let them know what will happen if they don’t follow those expectations. In the park example, it may be that you LEAVE the park. But you really have to leave the park! You cannot just threaten to leave the park. Just like you cannot threaten to “leave them at home” unless that is an actual option (i.e. like there’s an adult at home to care for them) and you are willing to do that.
Just like how they have learned that they don’t have to listen to what you say until you are really angry, they have also learned that you often give empty threats. They know they don’t have to do what you say if they know you’re not really going to follow through! YOU NEED TO FOLLOW THROUGH SO YOUR CHILDREN LEARN TO TRUST THAT YOU MEAN WHAT YOU SAY AND SAY WHAT YOU MEAN!!
Not only will you and your entire family benefit NOW from first setting the expectation, not repeating your instructions, and following through, but your CHILDREN will benefit from learning these boundaries, limits, and consistency as they grow into healthy, well-adjusted (NOT “the-world-revolves-around-me-and-I-don’t-have-to-do-things-I-don’t-want-to-do”), adults!
After all, we are not really raising CHILDREN as much as we are raising FUTURE ADULTS, right?
Some books that have helped me along the way include: Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard. Why You Do the Things You Do by Tim Clinton. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel
Kate Fraiser is a Parent Coach with Connect Point Moms helping you create stronger relational connections with the children in your life. This starts with being aware of your own stuff so you can BE PRESENT with your children in the moment you’re in, and then knowing and using the best ways to communicate with them. For quick and helpful parenting videos, find her on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or Facebook.