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“My child just doesn’t listen!!” Complain parents who consult with me.
“Of course children DON’T listen!!” I say
They don’t listen – simply because they SHOULDN’T listen.
If they listened to us - we would fill their lives with
“mustn’t” “don’t” “shouldn’t” and “can’t”.
We would undermine their courage and confidence and ensure that they never attempted anything that seemed impossible.
But nature wants children to achieve the impossible. Children are born believing that they are unstoppable. They are equipped to block our instructions and disregard our prophecies of doom.
Because they are armed with the ability to ignore us – children are able to march on and change the world.
Children are programmed to rebel.
When children don’t listen – they are not trying to insult us and purposely make our lives difficult. It is not personal.
Our job as parents is – not to wipe out the rebellion – but to tame the rebellion so that it is productive and not disruptive.
And we can make this happen. We can make our children listen to us – if we understand why they don’t listen.
Here is why children don’t listen
We don’t show our children how to listen – We ignore our children when they speak to us
Listening is learned behaviour. Children learn how to listen by watching their parents.
The clichéd “Don’t worry that your children are not listening to you – worry that they are watching you” Holds true here as well
We must be good role models and listen to our children when they talk.
If you ignore your child when he says something – he will ignore you when you instruct
We don’t give them enough attention – We pay attention only when they don’t listen
A helpless child can only resort to passive aggression to protest against what he doesn’t want or doesn’t like. And the easiest way to do that is to stop listening
Show your child that he is valued and important by respecting his opinion and wishes at certain times. Rest assured that he will respect your opinion and wishes at other times
We instruct children without ensuring that we have their attention – We don’t respect their work.
We adults are busy – as parents we have so much to do.
But are children free? No. They are busy too.
What they are busy with may seem unimportant and inconsequential to us adults – but it is important to them.
They are constantly working towards growing up and are engrossed and preoccupied.
Before we speak – we must connect with them by getting down to their level and looking into their eyes. Only then can we hope to be listened to
We use the wrong tone – We either drone on or shout
Children decide whether to listen or not from the way parents speak, and their tone.
When parents constantly drone on with instructions – the monotone prompts children to tune them out. It works best to not lecture, preach, or instruct them forever.
Children have short attention spans. Short crisp sentences that state exactly what they are expected to do – work best.
Shouting doesn’t help either. Anger is a threat to the child and he immediately shuts his brain down and begins to think of ways to escape instead of listening.
We use the wrong words
When we begin with an accusatory word like “You…….” a threatening word like “If…….” or a challenging word like “Why…….” Children feel threatened and go on the defensive.
The anger and fear generated by these words cause children to go into non-cooperation.
Think – before you speak
We are repetitive and predictable
When children don’t listen to us – we repeat our instructions over and over until they are executed.
Children are quick to realise that they will have multiple opportunities to do what they are asked. They know that their parents will ask them several times before they explode with anger
As smart as they are - they begin to wait for the explosion. It becomes their cue to listen.
They begin to listen for the angry voice. They ignore everything before that.
And this becomes a habit.
Don’t become a nag. Say it once. And then allow children to experience the consequences of doing or not doing something.
When talking to children remember that they were born to be in charge. Just like you.
Remember that they don’t like being told what to do. Just like you.
Have you ever felt like running away? I have.
I wanted to run away two days ago – when there was a huge pile of dishes in the kitchen sink. I often want to run away when there is a pile of laundry to fold. And every 6 months or so – when I am exhausted from being the brave working Mom – I feel like running away for a vacation.
Yes – there are times in our lives when all of us feel like running away.
Why do we feel like running away?
The thought of running away is liberating because the physical distance that we are able to put between ourselves and our problems holds the momentary promise of making us feel free.
Running away promises liberty. It makes us feel that not all problems require solutions.
When you run away you feel empowered. You are able to take your life back by putting distance between yourself and the parts of your life that displease you. You imagine that because you are in a new physical space you have left your problems behind.
When we leave we feel like we are in control once again. Leaving makes us feel like we are calling the shots – even in the midst of chaos
Why is it important to stay when we want to run away?
When we make it a habit to change our physical environment to solve our problems – we feel comfortable only when we are on the move. Moving away from discomfort begins to look like the only viable option
We begin to crave the comfort that comes from being in control. And since we know from experience – that the easiest way of taking back control is by leaving the place where the problem is – that is what we do.
Our automatic response to fear and discomfort – becomes to run away.
But fear must be overcome - by challenging and embracing it. Not by running away
The only way to win where others have lost – is to refuse to run away when we are afraid
And this is what we need to model in our lives for children to replicate in theirs
Unfortunately however – with our Parenting we often teach children the exact opposite of what they need to learn.
We teach them that they can and should Run Away
We teach our children that we are powerful when we leave
“If you don’t come – I am leaving without you”
We threaten our children like this all the time. In the park, at a birthday party at the mall.
What this teaches children is – that leaving is the easiest way in which we can exert and exercise power and control.
From us children learn – that the easiest way to terrify and blackmail someone who loves you and coerce them into doing what they don’t want to do – is to leave – to walk away.
They learn first hand how terrible the desperation being left behind is – and when they have the opportunity they skilfully engineer this desperation and use it to their advantage.
In what they know of as the sure fire way to cause desperation - they leave home – they run away
We teach our children how easy it is to escape problems by changing environments
“Don’t go down to play – those children fight with you – just stay home and play Xbox”
“That teacher is terrible – I am going to change your school”
“If you don’t like the dinner that’s served – just eat Maggi”
“It’s really hot – go switch on the A/C”
These are instructions that we give without thinking – because they are the easiest solutions. And with these instructions we teach escapism.
Children are sponge like in their ability to absorb, learn and do exactly what their parents are doing
As parents, we are the role models in our children’s lives. We have to show them – not tell them - how to navigate the problems that the world throws up.
With our thoughtless everyday actions however – often what we teach them is escapism.
Instead - we must teach them that they need to stand up and fight to get comfortable
We teach our children that fear can just be wished away – we need not face our fears
“Stop crying! There is nothing to be scared of! It is silly to cry like this”
On the first day of school…. at the swimming pool..... whenever things go wrong and our children encounter unhappy feelings – we brush them off immediately.
We teach them that fear is something to be ashamed of. And that no one else is afraid other than them
We convince our children that they are not feeling what they are feeling. As a result they never learn to tackle their feelings and instead learn to constantly run away from them
It is infinitely better in such situations - to say something like this
"I know you're scared, but I will stand with you and together we will face what you are afraid of – until you are no longer scared.”
It is important to embrace the truth and help children work through their confusing feelings.
It is important to overcome our fears and use them as the rungs of the ladder to grow.
We overreact when our children make mistakes
“How could you do such a thing? What will people say? What will happen now?”
Yes - many of us say things like this when our children go wrong
We forget that mistakes are a part of life. And that a lot of what we learn in life – we learn by making mistakes.
Our reactions to our children’s mistakes determines what our children learn from their mistakes.
A balanced reaction can serve as a learning experience.
An unbalanced reaction can make the child angry, resentful and afraid.
Panicking when our children make mistakes teaches them that making mistakes is not acceptable. And when mistakes happen – instead of owning up to them and trying to rectify them – we must run away from them - otherwise there is chaos.
This is what we must teach our children
The primitive defence mechanisms of our body and mind will always prompt us to run,
but it is important not to do listen to the run commands that come down to us .......because
We can run away whenever we want to - but we can never escape