First of all, I want to say that you are doing a good job. If you are reading this post, you likely searched on some terms related to the question,
“Why don’t my kids listen to me?”
That, my friend, is a very good question. In parenting, investigating the “why” is key if you ever find yourself stuck. Kids are a puzzle, but if we take the time to study them and look beneath the surface to the underlying reason, we can often solve it. So by asking why, you are already on the right track.
Now to the matter at hand: why don’t kids listen? Kids don’t listen for a number of reasons. Here are three, along with how you can use that information to unstop their ears.
Reason #1: Because they are busy
Have you ever been so engrossed in a project or a book or a funny YouTube video that you literally did not hear that someone was speaking to you? It happens to your kids too. You may not understand how Pokemon cards can be so captivating, but to your child, they might be.
I know it sounds silly to say this, but kids are people too. They have their own likes, dislikes, passions and interests. And while you may not share these interests, or even understand them, they are important to your children.
I remember my son used to play this football game on his phone. I would give him some time to play it after he got home in the afternoon – as a sort of wind down time. Honestly, it seemed like a waste of time to me. But at the time, he needed that time to escape for a bit after a stressful day. Recently, he said to me, “I don’t know why I liked that game so much.” Now that he’s a young adult, he sees it differently. But at the time, it was important to him.
So instead of shouting an instruction from another room or just peeking your head in the door and hoping they hear you, go to where your child is and look around. Are they engrossed in something? Can you wait a second until there is a good time to interrupt? If they are playing a video game, try saying something like,
“I’ll give you a second to pause the game. I have something to tell you and I want your full attention.”
This interchange shows your child that they are important as an individual and that you respect them. Once you have their attention, make eye contact, and give your instruction.
Reason #2: Because their parents are all talk and no action
For our anniversary one year, my husband and I went to Newport, Rhode Island. We stayed in a cute little inn. It was cute until about 10pm at night when the club next door came to life. The bass beat of the dance music was in full force until about 2am. There were apartments in the area and I remember asking my husband how people could sleep with all that racket.
The answer is exposure. Your brain is an amazing organ and it has the beautiful ability to tune out extraneous noises. People who live in a city know exactly what I am talking about.
It’s not unlike what can happen when we talk to our kids. Our voice can become like those extraneous noises. We may be talking a lot but if we are not really saying anything with our actions, our kids are not going to listen. After a while, we just start to sound like that teacher from the Peanuts cartoon.
We can correct this by saying less and doing more. Actions speak louder than words. This is true, especially in parenting. Pretend that your words are a precious resource, and you have a limited supply. Choose them wisely and you will get results.
It’s okay if you have to take a moment to compose what you are about to say. That pause will buy you the time you need to say something that is 1) enforceable 2) what you really want to say and 3) delivered calmly and with confidence.
Here’s an example of how actions can speak louder than words: Let’s say you asked your children to pick up their toys from the living room floor, but nothing happened. You can grab a laundry basket, sigh, tell them you are sad they chose not to listen, and gather all the toys up yourself. Tuck that basket in your closet and tell them they can earn one toy back each day they clean up when asked.
The next time you ask them to pick up their toys, they will hear your words because they will remember your actions.
Reason #3: Because their parents are talking at them, not with them
You may say that you talk to them all the time, but they still ignore you. Take a minute and audit your words. What is it that you most often say to your kids? Is it criticism? Correction? Instructions? Do you ask true, honest, inquisitive questions about their life?
If your kids have come to see your words as solely corrective, instructive, or negative, they will tune you out before you even get a chance to say anything.
Your relationship with your kids is so very important. If you want them to listen to you, invest in them. As people. Figure out what makes them tick. What they like and don’t like. Ask thoughtful questions. Yeah, it might feel awkward at first and they may roll their eyes, but do it anyway. Show them that you are interested in them, not just interested in getting them to do what you want.
I remember as a teen that I would come home from school and most days my mom would be sitting at the kitchen table with her cup of coffee and the newspaper. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but sometimes it worked. On the days I didn’t rush to my room and slam the door, I would sit down, have some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and spill my guts.
I know that for many single parents, working families, this sort of arrangement may not be possible. But try to be intentional about carving out time when you are available to your kids, when your attention is up for grabs. It might be after dinner. Or in the car on the way to dance lessons.
You don’t look available when your eyes are on your phone.
Availability looks like eye contact, a smile, and stillness. If you are struggling to find time for any of those in your life, see if there are things you can eliminate. You may lose something you like, but you will get something you love: connection with your kids.
There are a lot of other reasons why kids don’t listen: they may be tired, hungry, sick, struggling with a mental illness, have a developmental delay or countless other reasons. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But by asking the question “why?,” you are well on your way to uncovering the solution. Keep digging. The answers are there.