You love your kids, no question about it. But like every parent knows, sometimes you really don’t like your kids, especially when they aren’t listening to you. When you’ve been busy being a parent all day, the last thing you want is to not be listened to. But communication is a two-way street and if you want better communication with your kids, there are some things that you can do.
Why Your Kids Don’t Listen
According to the American Psychology Association , the key to a healthy relationship between parent and child is listening and talking. No matter what age your kids are at, communicating with them can sometimes seem impossible. Here’s why your kids might not be listening to you :
They Don’t Get It
Small children can only handle so much information at a time. According to speech-language pathologist Lauren Lowry , using long sentences, conversations with too many topics, and using big words can leave children confused. As parents, it’s best to be concise and straightforward when communicating with smaller children.
“The basic challenge is that parents very often speak without understanding how their children receive the message,” says psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson . “We often make an assumption that our kids understand. But then we wonder, ‘Why didn’t they do what I said?’”
It can be frustrating when you aren’t being listened to, but resorting to yelling and using harsh language isn’t doing any good. A study  published in the journal Child Development looked at over 900 families and found that harsh verbal discipline from parents can have a significant negative impact on kids. “Harsh verbal discipline” is when parents cause emotional and psychological pain to correct or control behavior.
Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study explains, “The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence, once there is a strong parent-child bond — that the adolescent will understand that ‘they’re doing this because they love me’ — is misguided because parents’ warmth didn’t lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline. Indeed, harsh verbal discipline appears to be detrimental in all circumstances.”
You’re Ignoring Them
Small children always seem to want to talk and ask you a million questions right when you’re in the middle of a busy task. According to psychologist Dr. Melanie Greenberg , instead of ignoring your kids or telling them to quiet down, take this opportunity to teach them “respect, empathy, and caring behavior”. Next time they want to have a philosophical discussion about why the sky is blue in the middle of preparing dinner, tell them that you’re in the middle of something, but once you’re done you can discuss it at length.
You’re Being Dismissive
Children can become frustrated and angry quite easily, and it’s just as easy to be dismissive of it. The next time they’re upset, sympathize with them and let them know you understand where their emotions are coming from. Don’t be so quick to correct their opinions either, no one likes being told they are wrong. “Like grown-ups, children want to feel that their opinions matter — and often get mad when they are told they are wrong,” says Dr. Thompson.
You’re Not Really Talking
While we may talk to our kids during the day, a lot of that is actually reminding them about things, telling them what to do, or lecturing them about what not to do. Show your children your interest by talking about things they are passionate about. This is how you can start having better communication with your kids.
How To Have Better Communication With Your Kids
So now you know why they don’t listen, how do you get them to listen? Better yet, how do you get them to listen the first time. Better communication starts with a few simple things that you can do :
- Make sure they can actually hear you. If you find yourself having to yell from one side of the house to the other, chances are your child can’t actually hear you. So before you get upset that your request isn’t being followed, talk to them in person. When talking to younger kids, make sure to make eye contact when talking to them, this helps to teach them proper communication skills. With older kids, go for minimum eye contact but make sure they acknowledge they heard you.
- Understand that they may not be ignoring you on purpose. Children under the age of 14 don’t have what is called ‘peripheral awareness’. When they are engaged in an activity like reading or gaming, they can easily miss a parent standing close by and talking to them. See the first tip for better dealing with this situation.
- Sometimes, they are ignoring you on purpose. Kids like to test what limits they can push, parents being one of them. This is just a part of them learning and growing, to find out what the rules really are and see what they can get away with. Instead of resorting to yelling or to giving up, talk to them about why ignoring someone is wrong. By being the example for them, they’ll know how to react in the future.
- If you know they hear you, ask once and see what happens. If your child follows through with your request, then great! But if not…
- Tell them why you’re asking. Don’t give an arbitrary reason like ‘Because I said so”, that never works, especially with older kids. Teens are rebellious by nature, so when you act like an overbearing authority figure, you’re less likely to get a response. By giving reasons to your requests, you show how their actions (or inaction) can have negative consequences. While this might not motivate them to do things immediately, it does show that you’re not just asking for the sake of asking.
- Let what happens, happen. If you’ve asked for something and given reasons why and they still don’t respond, sometimes it’s best to let these natural consequences happen. If you’re constantly reminding your child to put their dirty clothes in the hamper and they don’t, then they’ll understand when they don’t get washed. Real world consequences are a great wake up call that their decisions really do affect them. But if natural consequences won’t work, try step 7.
- Give them a fair warning of the consequences of not listening. If you give kids a fair warning of what happens when a request is ignored, then they are making a choice about their behavior. An example of this being, “You have 5 more minutes of TV time before bed. If you don’t come with me when I tell you it’s time to go, then tomorrow you won’t be able to watch TV because I know you won’t listen to me when time’s up.” If you’ve given a request and a reason for the request and they still don’t respond, then that is when you should act on the consequences you have laid out.
Better communication with your children starts with you and an understanding of your child.