Pots are simmering, it's almost time for dinner. But when you tell your three-year-old that it's tidy up time she barely looks up from her blocks.
Kids refusals to listen can be frustrating and infuriating for parents. For the most part they aren't deliberately ignoring you. Your call to clean up for dinner is intrusive to your child – just as her pulling on your leg or tipping over her drink is to you when you are on the phone.
What turns these miscommunications around? Listening.
Get Your Kids To Listen
Before you ask your child to listen to you, try listening to her. We parents are eager to check off the billion things on our to-do list, but your three-year-old lives in the moment. Transitions are hard for her. While we are calculating how soon we can get through dinner, bath, teeth-brushing, and bedtime, she is engrossed in stacking her red block on the green one.
To get her to listen, it pays to slow down and reach out to her on her level.
Here's a some top tips to build listening into your day and fire up your connection.
Foster a Climate of Connection
When a child feels connected she is more likely to respond to your requests. Try spending some Special Time with her, daily if you can. In these moments, let her choose whatever activity she likes and have her direct you as you join in. A daily dose of special time acts like maintenance program to strong connections. Each session gives her time to feel listened to, in charge and respected.
Make Time To Reconnect
If she's feeling connected, she'll tune in better to your request. And, when she has to consider giving up her good fun for you, she's more likely to. Moments of disconnection set in when you've been away. Prepping dinner means your attention has shifted, even if you are just steps away. Sometimes even this small distance impacts your child negatively. When you have a request, set aside time to reconnect first. Join your child on the rug with her blocks and notice what she is doing. “Oh! You built a tower,” “The red block is on top,” are simple statements that show her your interest.
Work Up to the Request
Give her time to transition by telling her that dinner is almost ready. She may suggest tidying up herself, but she may still be engrossed in her own activity. Admire this for another minute or two and then set the limit to tidy up.
Set The Limit Firmly but Warmly
In a light tone say, “Ok, it's time to tidy now.” Show her that you do mean business by looking into her eyes as you make the request. If she continues building, lightly hold her hands to reinforce your meaning.
Create Fun Tidy-Up Times
Resistance to requests is human nature, and something we all experience, young or old. Clear away this negativity by making tidy up playful. You might suggest that she couldn't possibly put more blocks in her bucket than you can. Try being silly too. Say, “I'm only going to tidy up red blocks,” and collect all the green ones. When you are done, challenge her to beat you to the dinner table. Let her “win,” the challenges so she feels empowered, and head to dinner laughing. Laughter naturally releases any light fears she may be needing to release. We call this type of playful tool Playlistening.
Expect Some Tears
If your child is not open to play, you'll know about it. Upsets may bubble up, says Patty Wipfler, author of the book Listen: Five Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges, and this is a good sign. If you stay close and warm, rather than lecture, your child may tantrum. This is what she needs to let off steam and clear away any bad feelings she may be harboring. “Though others around you may not understand, the situation has improved,” says Patty. “All you need to do is to keep holding the limit and offering your warmth. When her crying tapers down, you ask again, “Sweetie, can you put the blocks away yet?” She will release feelings until she can reconnect with you and regain her ability to reason,” says Patty.
Keep a light tone, and wait for your child to show she's ready. You'll know she is when she is exploring again – perhaps picking up the blocks. With her feelings cleared away, she'll be more ready to cooperate.
If making requests like this seems like a long process, think about the alternatives:
- Maybe you feel it's easier to simply put the blocks away, but this method teaches your child that you don't really deserve listening to.
- If you shout and threaten, children believe that they only have to act when you blow up, so those events begin to occur more regularly, and in a repetitive pattern.
- If you issue a time out, your child is sent away. Here, she feels more alone than ever, and even if she obeys the order to come eat this time, she won't have willingly done so. Her off-track behavior will likely continue through the meal and the rest of the evening because she has not been heard. You keep battling until bedtime.
- When they wait to re-establish connection before they set a limit, Parents are often amazed how smooth the rest of an evening goes. You give an outlet for your child to express themselves without fear or judgement. That release is evident in the way she co-operates when you make further requests. Like a weight has been lifted, she is light, joyful, and happy.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
- If you are finding limit setting draining, it's worth bringing it up in a listening partnership.
- Learn more about setting loving limits in our free Setting Limits booklet
- Find out What's Wrong With Time Outs in this post
- Patty Wipfler's book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges is out now. Buy it now!