One of the biggest complaints I get from parents is, “He just won’t listen to me!”
Adults really want kids to listen to them and comply with their demands instantly, because that’s just the way the world works, right? Wrong!
Children enter into this world with little understanding about authority, respect and how listening to the directions given to them protects them from harm or exploitation. Actually, kids may have more fun watching the face you make when you’ve asked them to do something and they’ve ignored you or refused to do what was asked!
The good news is that with a little bit of practice, most kids can become pretty good listeners. While some have natural temperament traits that make them oppositional, negative in their mood and/or apathetic to the feelings of others, most kids are people-pleasers who really just want to do what makes their parents and teachers happy.
But before they can please you with your expectation that they listen, you have to teach them how to listen, including what it means and what it looks like. To do this, there’s a three step process:
1. Set Up the Rule: Listening Ears On
My favorite rule in the whole word is the rule to Use Listening Ears or to have Listening Ears On. Why do I like it so much? Well, do you really need any other rule if you have a rule that says that the kids must listen to what their parents are telling them to do? Not really!
I tell children to Use Listening Ears because by doing so, it helps them to learn how to comply with authority and listen to and care about the feelings of their friends.
Create a rules list that includes Use Listening Ears or Put Listening Ears On. Include a picture that emphasizes the ears of a child and a description of when and where to use listening ears. These can be used in step 2.
2. Teach the Rule: What Do Listening Ears Do?
Each day, review with the children what listening ears are. Use the rules list that shows a picture of listening ears and the description that you created.
My description is simple and says, “Listening Ears On: When asked to do something, I do it!”
I’ve also used, “Use listening ears with our friends, teachers and parents. When they ask me to do something, I do it!”
Yes, this does create a little issue with peer pressure and making poor decisions. But don’t worry, I’ll addresshow to differentiate peer pressure and bullying from respecting authority and caring about the feelings of others in next week’s post.
Next, you want to give the children an opportunity to practice their skills in using their listening ears. Your instruction will not go very far if you don’t give them an opportunity to practice. To teach children how to use listening ears, I like to play a game like Simon Says.
Ask the children to stand up and give themselves enough space so that if they reach their hands out to their side, they don’t touch anybody. Tell the children that you are going to play a game to test their listening ears.
Say, “I am going to tell you to do something, and if you have your listening ears on, then you do exactly what I say.” Then, give the children a series of commands. Start by saying, “If you have your listening ears on…then give the command. Praise the children if they do what you ask them to do and say, “You’re wearing your listening ears!”
This really isn’t a difficult game and it’s hard to lose this game. What it does is create a fun way to plant the idea that listening ears means doing what your parents or teachers ask you to do. It helps you to complete step 3 if needed.
3. Reinforce the Rule: Warnings and Consequences
This step is only needed when a child is demonstrating a lack of skill in using his listening ears. It is used when you’ve asked him to do something and he’s either ignoring you or deliberately disobeying you for some reason.
Start this step off by providing a warning. The warning should state that (1) the child has just forgotten to use his listening ears and (2) a consequence will come next if he forgets to use his listening ears again.
Here are a few examples:
Jackson, I asked you to put the toys away so that we can go outside. You weren’t using your listening ears because you didn’t clean up the toys. Once you put on your listening ears and clean up those toys, then we will be able to go outside.
Lily, your friend just asked you to get off of her because you’re hurting her. You forgot to use your listening ears and you’re still sitting on her. Please use your listening ears and get off of her, or you will need to sit out from playing with friends for a few minutes.
The hope is that by offering these warnings, the child will be reminded that he made a mistake and will correct his behavior so he doesn’t have to receive a consequence. But sometimes, it’s just too hard to remember, even with warnings! That’s when the real consequences have to happen.
In the scenarios above, I offered the consequences within the warning. It isn’t difficult to figure out what the natural consequence will be that will follow the offense of forgetting to use listening ears and failing to respond to the warning: Jackson won’t be allowed to go outside; Lily will have to sit out for a few minutes.
Some parents like to have a set list of consequences that will occur for breaking the rules, like losing a privilege or taking a time out. Others like to make decisions on the fly (like the adults in Jackson and Lily’s case did). I don’t really care what you choose, but a consequence that seems natural to the offense and encourages the child to think twice next time and use listening ears is the ultimate goal.
Here is a more thorough example.
Johnny’s parents created a list of rules that included the use of listening ears, among other simple rules. Each day, Johnny’s parents reminded him that he is supposed to listen to what his friends, parents and teachers say to him. They play the game a few times a week that help him to remember what it means to have listening ears on.
On Saturday, Johnny’s family goes to an amusement park. Johnny’s parents remind him that he must have his listening ears on today so that they can keep him safe. Johnny doesn’t want to sit in the stroller while his parents push him around the amusement park; he wants to run and walk all by himself. Johnny’s mom says, “You can walk, but you must keep your listening ears on. If you aren’t using your listening ears, then you will not be able to walk by yourself.”
Johnny’s parents watched him closely, fearing that he would get too far ahead and would be in danger of getting lost. Johnny’s mom warned him that they were going to get in line for the kiddie roller coaster and that he must stay by her side the whole time. Johnny saw the roller coaster and ran towards it. He zigged and zagged through the crowds of people to get a closer look. Johnny’s dad ran after him and was able to catch him, but had a hard time keeping him in his sights while he disappeared into the crowds.
Johnny’s dad picked him up and started carrying him back to his mom, away from the roller coaster. Johnny screamed. His dad said, “Mom asked you to stay right by her side, but you ran away. You forgot to use your listening ears. You have to sit in the stroller now for awhile, because you forgot to use your listening ears. But you’ll get another chance to prove that you can use your listening ears, and I bet you’ll do better next time!”
It can be hard–especially with a screaming child in a public place–to reinforce your expectation. However, you know how dangerous it is for a child to run away in a public place like that. It’s best to consistently provide a consequence to him so that he understands what your expectations are, because next time he runs away, you may not be so lucky!
The best way to get kids to listen is to:
- Let them know what listening actually means: listening and hearing are two different things, and kids aren’t actually born with the capacity to listen; it’s a learned trait.
- Let them know when they aren’t using their listening ears by giving a warning (or when they are using their listening ears by praising)
- Let them know that forgetting to use their listening ears is an offense that will receive a consequence, consistently, by providing a consequence if they forget to respond to the warning they received.
Without teaching them what listening means, you are setting them up to fail.
Without warning them, you’re expecting too much out of them, and again setting them up to fail.
And without giving them a consequence, you’re setting the precedent that they don’t have to listen to or respond to the directions of authority, or the thoughts and feelings of others. And this, too, is setting them up to fail, because life won’t follow that precedent.