The ability to stick their fingers in their ears and drown out our yelling is one of a child’s few superpowers – and the bane of any parent’s existence. It makes us feel utterly powerless and overwhelmingly angry all at once.
So, we asked a parenting specialist what to do about it.
Whether it’s asking them to do a simple chore around the house or demanding they stop doing something dangerous, impolite or downright annoying, it feels like we’re constantly asking our children to listen to us – and they’re constantly doing the opposite.
Cliff Battley, a clinical psychologist and parenting specialist with over 25 years in the industry, understands how frustrating it can be. But, he assures us, there are strategies that won’t just work, but will work immediately.
So next time your child isn’t listening, don’t pull your hair out; try these tips instead.
“It’s important to never raise your voice in response to your child yelling at you,” says Cliff. “While this might be our natural reaction, beware: raising your voice teaches your kids that it’s ok to yell and scream to solve problems. You are also validating their original unacceptable behaviour of yelling.”
When our kids don’t follow our instructions, we often find ourselves bargaining with them and explaining why they need to do their chores or complete their homework.
“By doing this, we risk giving our kids the impression that the task at hand is up for negotiation; so if they can come up with a better reason than you, they might not have to do it!” says Cliff.
Cliff understands that we’re all guilty of just giving in, often because we’re sick of asking and figure it will just be easier to do it ourselves. But while this might seem easier at the time, by accepting defeat, we’re teaching our kids that if they scream or argue for long enough, they will get their way and they won’t have to do anything we ask.
“With that being said, here are two simple strategies that I like to teach my clients to get their children to listen and behave,” says Cliff.
Strategy One: The Agreement
Cliff’s first strategy involves making an agreement between you, your kids and any other parents in your children’s life. You are to all sit down together and agree that if you are asked to help with something, that the person asked is to always follow through – be it a chore, or something more general. Explain to your kids that this is because your family is a team and when a team member needs a hand, you must always help them.
“This isn’t just for when you, as a parent, ask for help – it works both ways,” says Cliff. “If your child asks for help, whether it be on an assignment or a conflict they’ve had with a friend, you will always help them. You will also let your kids know that if this agreement isn’t adhered to then there will be consequences.”
For example, if you ask your child to unpack the dishwasher and they’re yelling, screaming and refusing to do so, simply say, in a businesslike tone, ”I’m going to take responsibility for getting dinner cooked and you’re going to take responsibility for emptying the dishwasher, and for every minute you don’t empty the dishwasher you’re going to lose one hour of technology time from today onward until that’s done”. Then, turn away and go back to what you were doing. Don’t look at them and don’t say another word. Show them that you mean it and that’s all there is to it; no negotiation, no bargaining. They have agreed previously to help when asked and they are to uphold that agreement. The reaction you’ll most likely receive is “I don’t care” and they’ll fight, scream and carry on. Under no circumstances are you to give in to this behaviour, because the moment you do, you will undo everything you have been working towards.
“When your child sees that you are serious and that you are not going to become elevated and emotional, they will start to understand that these are the rules of the house and there is no other option for them in this situation,” says Cliff. “They will begin to understand that it’s easier to just unpack the dishwasher when asked and be rewarded, rather than spend all that time arguing with you and then facing consequences.”
Strategy Two: Keep Your Cool
This strategy is for when your child starts at you about something out of the blue, be it because you haven’t let them go to a party or you won’t let them stay up later. When you say no to something and your child starts yelling and screaming at you ”Why can’t I go!!?? Everybody else is going!?” or “Simon’s mum lets him stay up late, why can’t I?!”
“Strategy one isn’t going to help you in this circumstance because you don’t have an agreement in place,” says Cliff. “If you want your child to stop screaming in this situation you are to look at them calmly and say ‘I’m not going to talk with you while you’re yelling and screaming at me. It’s now one o’clock in the afternoon, I’ll chat with you again at 2 o’clock and we’ll talk about it then’.”
At exactly 2 o’clock, not a minute before, not a minute after, go and speak with your child and tell them that you are ready to talk about it again. This way, you’re taking charge but you’re not fighting back and being aggressive. If they still haven’t calmed down, repeat the process until they do.
“One thing to know about children is that they don’t yet have emotional intelligence or an understanding of the consequences of their actions, as their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed,” says Cliff. “But we, as adults, do, and it’s our job to set an example of what they could do, who they could be or what they will mimic to solve problems.”
Cliff explains that the moment you behave like your children you are telling them that they don’t have to change their behaviour. When you come into the conflict neutral and calm, you are setting the standards of appropriate behaviour and teaching them by example. No amount of lecturing is going to teach your kids emotional intelligence, the only way to teach them this is by doing and leading by example.
“The great thing is that kids who are emotionally intelligent make emotionally intelligent decisions, meaning they chose emotionally intelligent behaviours and are more successful in life,” says Cliff. “They also have higher self-esteem, greater levels of confidence, are more courageous to try new challenges in life and are more resilient – not just in life but for everything that life throws at them like bullies, schoolwork, tests, exams and jobs.”
So, there you have it: Cliff’s two strategies to get your kids to listen to you instantly. Give them a go for yourself, and you’ll be surprised at how effective and simple it can be.