When Your Child Doesn’t Listen: Helping Your Tot Learn to Listen the 1st Time You Ask!
Sometimes, talking to my toddler is like talking to a wall. No matter how loudly I speak or how many times I repeat myself, my son seems to be in his own little world, and I just cannot get him to listen. Super frustrating! K.C. Dreisbach, a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, is here to help break the sound barrier between moms and toddlers that seems to prevent our voices from getting through. Let’s continue with K.C.’s Blog Book Tour for her new book, Trials of the Working Parent!
Welcome to our 2nd blog visit on the “Trials of the Working Parent” Blog Book Tour, and Part 3 of our multi-day, Q&A Series! If you missed yesterday’s post, check it out here to read about rewarding your child without spoiling them. If you haven’t been following us through the Q&A, please go back and check out Part 1 of our series for some points to keep in mind as you read through this series. Now, let’s get going with our questions for today!
Question: My toddler just does not listen to me, even in dangerous situations like crossing the road. How do I make my kid listen to me and understand that I am serious and concerned for his safety without yelling?
Answer: This is a great question and is a common problem for so many parents! How many of us catch ourselves repeating the same directive to our kids 2, 3, 5, 8 times before they actually follow through or seem to listen to us? Not only is this extremely frustrating to us as parents, but it can be dangerous! What if your child is going to run into the street as a car is approaching? When you say “stop” to them, you need them to STOP the FIRST time you say it! The second time might be too late!
What I’m about to share with you is 1 of 9 tips I talk about in my new book, “Trials of the Working Parent,” that tackle common issues parents experience or common mistakes parents make when it comes to parenting young children. This tip has to do with “warnings” and “parental follow through.” Most parents want to give their child the opportunity to correct their behavior before having to discipline their child. There is no issue with this. The problem arises when parents give their child multiple warnings before administering discipline. This is a problem. Let’s discuss it.
A “warning” is when you inform your child that if they don’t change their current behavior, a specific consequence will ensue. The problem with “warnings” is that parents fall into the trap of giving multiple warnings, or warnings that are not attached to a specific behavior. As a rule of thumb, you should only give your child ONE warning, and that warning should be very specific. Let’s look at some examples:
Example # 1: Kelly is throwing a ball around in the house. Mommy says, “Kelly, stop doing that.” Kelly continues. Mommy raises her voice, “Kelly, I said stop that!” Kelly keeps going. Mommy raises her voice more, stating, “Kelly, stop it or you’re going to get in trouble!” Kelly keeps going. Mommy, now frustrated, takes the ball away, “I told you to stop! Why don’t you listen to me?!?!”
Example # 2: Kelly is throwing a ball around in the house. Mommy says, “Kelly, stop throwing the ball in the house or I will take the ball away.” Kelly keeps going. Mommy takes the ball from Kelly, saying, “Because you were throwing the ball around in the house and you didn’t follow my directions when I asked you to stop throwing the ball, I’m taking the ball away.”
Example # 1 is a classic picture of what a lot of parents will experience. In this example, Mom gives Kelly 3 warnings before enacting the discipline. Her third warning is also very vague regarding what the consequence will be. Parents who tend to give multiple warnings will typically have kids who don’t listen the first time a directive is given. Children are very smart; they are biologically wired to learn patterns of behaviors from their caregivers. As such, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out how many warnings their parents will give before they have to take their parents seriously. Furthermore, the warnings are vague. They fail to tell Kelly what behavior she is supposed to stop. Kids are great at looking for loopholes in our household rules. I’ve had kids in therapy that will say things like, “I thought you wanted me to stop jumping. I didn’t know that you wanted me to stop throwing the ball.” To prevent this, being specific in your warnings is helpful in increasing the likelihood that your child will listen to your directions.
Example # 2, by contrast, shows Mom giving only 1 warning. The warning is also very specific about what behavior the mom is looking for and what the consequence will be. A child who grows up knowing that he only gets 1 warning is much more likely to listen to his parent the first time the directive is given. The child knows that he won’t get a second chance at it. This example also shows the parental follow through, which is a very important part of effective discipline. This leads us to our next point….
Parental Follow Through
Have you ever told your child something to the effect of, “If you don’t stop XYZ, then we’re going home?” Or maybe, “If you don’t start listening to me, I’m taking your (fill in the blank) away for the rest of the week?” Maybe you’ve never said these things, but you probably know someone who has. These statements aren’t necessarily bad. They are just prone to poor follow through from parents. Let’s face it, if you paid $200+ for your family to go to Disneyland, or just finished ordering your meal at a restaurant (but haven’t eaten yet), are you really going to leave because your child is acting up? Probably not…. Same thing for taking away objects that you rely on to keep your child settled in different environments.
Parental follow through means that when you give your child a warning and list a specific consequence, you need to be ready to actually do what you just said you would do! This is one of the biggest traps parents I work with get into. They threaten consequences that they can’t actually follow through with. This same principle applies to rewards too! If you tell your child that a certain behavior will elicit a specific reward, then you need to actually follow through with that too! Failure to follow through renders your words meaningless and frequently leads to kids who don’t listen when their parents are trying to discipline them. I also want to note that everything I just mentioned here can be accomplished without yelling to your children. Once your child begins to understand that they only get ONE warning, they will start to follow directions more promptly. The outcome will be in you feeling less stressed and less likely to result to yelling.
I hope this was helpful to you in your current struggle. I do offer some more tips and advice on how to manage these troublesome behaviors in my book, “Trials of the Working Parent.” So, if you feel as though you would like more help and ideas, check it out on Amazon.
That’s all for today! Please join us again here tomorrow for the next part of our series where we will discuss the importance of self-care for moms. And, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook to get updates on the Book Tour. See you all tomorrow!
Guest Author Bio
K.C. Dreisbach is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Southern California. She has spent years in the field of mental health helping thousands of families achieve happy, healthy lives. Currently, she is a Clinical Supervisor for a non-profit agency working with troubled youth and their families. She is also the author of the new book, “Trials of the Working Parent.” In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with her two young children and husband.