It’s a weekday morning and I need to drop two of our kids off at their breakfast club before catching a train to work.
Five minutes before departure our 7-year-old isn’t even dressed and won’t look can’t find any clean pants. Our 3-year-old is sulking under the kitchen table because her breakfast is in a small bowl.
I take a step back. This could go two ways. I could unpack the ‘loud voice’ and blast them with a few of my best verbal missiles, or I could take the following approach:
1. Stop talking
That’s right. Stop. Talking.
I don’t even look at them again. I’ve asked once and I know they’ve heard me – it’s now up to them to fulfil their end of the deal.
It took me a few years to admit but my kids are sick of the sound of my voice and have become deaf to my frequent requests to:
- flush the toilet after you have a poo
- put your socks on
- put the stool away
- tidy your marbles away
- eat your dinner
- stop screaming
- stop hitting each other
- flush the toilet still
- eat with your mouth closed
- wash your hands
- get in the bath
- get out the bath
What are they not used to hearing? Silence.
Try it for yourself and don’t be tempted to fill the void with another ignored request. It may be difficult at first, so if it helps picture the scene in Jurassic Park where the T-Rex is sniffing around:
2. Leave the room
You may be tempted to slip back into issuing orders, hoping that like some form of kiddie OCD they just need to hear you say it ten times. Do not do this.
Leave the room and concentrate on doing something that is important to you. Boil the kettle. Sneak down a couple of ginger nuts. Go to the toilet in peace. Or, if you’re feeling ultra confident, pick up a book.
What you will experience next is truly magical. Your child will immediately be at your side, talking to you and wanting to know exactly what you are doing in the most minute detail.
This is the optimal time and the window of opportunity is small. Proceed to step 3.
3. Explain Yourself
‘Why do I need to explain myself?’ I hear you ask.
It may be obvious to a grown up that ‘put your shoes on’ means finding them under the sofa or behind the fridge and putting them on your feet.
Children just hear something like this:
So, while you briefly have their attention, try adding the ‘why’ to the ‘what’ in as few words as possible. Throw in consequences for good measure:
‘You need to put your shoes on because we’re walking to the shops. Daddy needs beer for tonight.’
‘Cover the sandpit or the rain will make it too soggy to play with. It will never dry and Daddy will need to buy more.’
‘If you don’t put your Lego away Daddy will tread on them and hurt his foot.’
You can even rub your chin for added effect, but make sure you only ever, ever say it once.
DO NOT resort to saying the forbidden phrases of ‘because I told you to’ or ‘because I’m the adult’. If you utter either of these, it is immediately game over and you will need to start again.
4. Let Consequences Do The Talking
Where possible (and where safe obviously) you should let natural consequences do the rest of the talking. Everyone learns best by doing, right?
No hood up? Let them get wet on the walk to the shops.
Won’t eat their dinner? Let them go hungry.
Won’t wash their hands after using the toilet? Let them get worms. Ok, maybe not that one.
It won’t be easy, or always be appropriate, but it should start to make future battles a little easier if they can see for themselves what will happen if they won’t listen.
5. Big them up
Positive reinforcement apparently works wonders. Our eldest however was always immune to it – he would largely do whatever he fancied whether we praised him or not. Our daughter on the other hand adores praise. So does our dog. That’s 2:1 in favour, which is good enough odds for me.
On a serious note though, these are little people still, and they need to be told when they’ve done something that we’re happy about.
In a hectic three kid household like ours, it’s easy to forget to stop once in a while and let them know. Don’t be like that. You don’t even have to say anything – a simple hug or thumbs up can work too.
So that’s my way of getting our kids to listen – by actually saying less and encouraging them to think and learn for themselves more.
If you have any tips or experiences leave a comment below.